Meditation is more than just a hot trend. Researchers have discovered extensive and measurable health benefits from this ancient, yet misunderstood practice. And it’s not hard to understand why. All of us are running from one fire to another, it seems. Our brains are always in overdrive. When you stop to think about it, the brain is really the hardest-working organ in the body, and it deserves a rest from time to time.
There’s an intimidation factor surrounding meditation, but it’s much easier than you think. You don’t have to join a particular religion, twist yourself into a pretzel, chant or sit still with a clear mind for hours on end to reap the benefits. Even 10 minutes a day can make a difference in your life. This is about more than just relaxing; you have the power to change the way your brain processes information – and the effects can be profound.
Benefits of Meditation
Meditation helps regulate your mood, in part because it helps lower your emotional response. The things that used to rattle you may now simply wash over you. A study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison discovered that meditation actually triggers a reduction in the gray matter of the brain that’s associated with a decrease in mood. Harvard University neuroscientists, meanwhile, found an increase in the gray matter associated with sense of self and perspective. With better perspective comes greater compassion and empathy. Meditation largely focuses on gratitude, which helps keeps us grounded and, quite simply, real.
When you have greater compassion for others, you feel less lonely in this world and more inclined to make connections with others. Your emotional intelligence – your capacity to be self-aware, control and express your emotions and handle interpersonal relationships appropriately — increases. According to MentalHealthDaily.com, “there is evidence that meditation has the potential to change aspects of your potential – likely for the better.” Researchers suggest that meditators “accept a greater sense of responsibility, are more likely to maintain authenticity, compassion, and accept themselves. Frequent mindfulness meditation is associated with increases in personality traits of openness and extroversion.”
Meditation has been linked to increased immunity and the reduction of general aches and discomforts. It’s also been credited with reducing stress, bone density support, promoting fat loss, clearer skin, and better regulation of blood sugar levels.
Meditation increases the brain’s capacity for self-control, focus and attention, along with memory and creativity. As you age, the area of your brain that manages memory and decision-making shrinks – but meditation may be able to prevent that shrinkage. At the same time, your meditation practice is building gray matter in key areas of your brain, which means you’re increasing your brain’s capacity. You’re not getting older; you’re getting smarter!
With meditation, what you’re really doing is clearing the clutter from your brain and leaving behind calm and clarity. And, given our crazy lives, couldn’t we all use a little less clutter?
Getting Started with Meditation
So if all of that evidence is convincing enough for you, how do you get started?
First, find a quiet spot – anyplace where you won’t be disturbed for at least 10 minutes. Find a seat either on the floor or in a chair, if you prefer. Set a timer, if you want. Then close your eyes, and begin to focus on your breath, inhaling and exhaling through the nose. As the day’s intrusive thoughts enter your mind, acknowledge them as an observer, but don’t engage. Let them come and go as you continue to focus on your breath. Aim to perform this practice every day. Over time, you’ll notice that it gets easier.
And if you prefer not to sit in a room, feel free to take your meditation outside. You might even decide to take your meditation to go, as you take a leisurely walk.
There aren’t any hard and fast rules here. The key is just to get started. One last tip: Your meditation practice is your time – honor yourself by not letting anything interrupt this investment in your health.
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