What is meditation?
The Oxford Dictionary defines meditation as “to think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or purely as a method of relaxation”.
While there are many different techniques and purposes for meditating, we are interested in how meditation relaxes the mind and reduces stress and it’s negative impact on the mind and body. Meditation is a natural mental process that induces a set of integrated psycho physiological changes termed as the ‘relaxation response’.
The relaxation response is defined as a protective mechanism against stress that brings about decreased heart rate, lower metabolism, decreased respiratory rate, and increased mental clarity and focus. It is the physiological opposite of the stress response, commonly known as “fight or flight”. Scientific studies have demonstrated that a regular practice of meditation can significantly reduce and or prevent the negative effects of depression, anxiety and other stress related conditions.
Meditation is not difficult! With an effective technique, you are able to experience the benefits immediately, and with practice soon become efficient and enjoy its life enhancing attributes.
Bit by bit the creative silence starts to unfold. You will find that whilst in this meditative state your subconscious mind is far more open to creative forces; great ideas may come to you and problems will be solved.
Although many people love the meditation effects that come with a 40 or 60-minute session, a 20-minute meditation session can achieve substantial benefits. Regular practice of meditation can reduce physiological age significantly.
20 reasons why meditation is so beneficial:
There are literally hundreds of commonly experienced and scientifically validated benefits of meditation. Here’s possibly the top twenty.
In two main categories – the physical health benefits and the psychological benefits.
Physical health benefits of meditation
- Meditation literally grows your brain, both in volume and thickness. This doesn’t just make you smarter; it increases your memory, attention, self-awareness and self-control alongside a whole list of other desirable qualities.
- Meditation increases blood flow to your brain… the brain can’t function without a strong steady flow of blood to it. The stronger and steadier the flow, the better the brain functions.
- Meditation reduces cortisol production, a stress-induced hormone that suppresses the immune system and can make you feel anxious nervous and unsettled for no real reason (other than having too much cortisol in your system).
- Meditation reduces blood pressure and heart rate, which alleviates unnecessary pressure on your heart and arteries.
- Meditation increases neuroplasticity. This is the brains ability to organise itself, adapt to demands and enables you to become more efficient in the learning process.
- Meditation increases the production of good neurotransmitters including serotonin and dopamine, both of which play a huge role in controlling our moods. It’s understood that low levels of serotonin cause depression.
- Meditation triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which enables us to rest and recover from stress.
- Meditation boosts the immune system. As we reduce our stress, the immune system is boosted and so is our general wellbeing.
- Meditation causes muscle relaxation. Muscle tension is generally caused by stress and when left unchecked can cause all kinds of problems such as vertebrae displacement, spinal issues and lack of mobility in the body.
- Meditation slows the ageing process. Meditation significantly increases melatonin and DHEA and decreases cortisol, which has a significant impact on slowing the ageing process down.
Psychological benefits of meditation
- Meditation reduces stress related conditions such as anxiety and depression. When we meditate, the brain and nervous system undergo radical changes that cause the reduction and prevention of these conditions.
- Meditation increases stress resilience. When we are able to switch off the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for the fight or flight response) and trigger the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for the relaxation response) on a regular basis, we are training our bodies to rapidly recover from the impact of stress. Over time the brain learns how to stabilize the autonomic nervous system in everyday life without having to switch into the “fight or flight response” when faced with challenges or demands.
- Meditation increases positive emotions. There are a few reasons why this happens. The simplest reason is the reduction of stress. When we reduce the stress in our system we return to our natural state of feeling calm, connected to ourselves and confident in meeting the challenges of life. When we experience this it feels good and it shows!
- Meditation increases focus and present moment awareness. When we meditate, we stimulate the pre-frontal cortex. This is the front part of the brain that is responsible for concentration, focus and problem solving among many other important functions.
- Meditation increases emotional stability and intelligence. When we meditate regularly, and reduce our stress levels, our hormones balance out and we feel less reactive, less defensive and effortlessly balanced more of the time.
- Meditation increases ones capacity to learn. By stimulating the pre-frontal cortex, we are also awakening the brains learning centre. More brain volume = more brain power.
- Meditation increases empathy and compassion. These 2 are such games changers in our world and scientific studies reveal that our ability to be compassionate and empathetic is really a brain game. Regular meditation rewires the brain and increases our ability to be able to consider the feelings and needs of others and how we could be of service.
- Meditation increases a sense of connection to your self and others. The more you meditate the more you become aware of who you are. When we allow the mind to go beyond those everyday levels of thinking we may get stuck in and experience deeper more expansive states of ourselves, this experience begins to inform us of our deep subtler nature. After a short while, we experience a more quiet, calmer and dynamic sense of who we are.
- Meditation increases your sense of purpose and meaning. The more you meditate the more you become aware of what you like and don’t like, what you are passionate about and what you aren’t. Regular meditation gives rise to clarity about what is important in life and a sense of confidence to make choices that enliven your passions and dissolve distractions. Life takes on greater meaning and you feel a deeper sense of purpose and satisfaction.
- Meditation improves sociability. Taking time out for yourself is really important but for us to live a full rich life, we need meaningful connections with others. Nervousness, anxiety and feeling down or disorientated can play a big role in not wanting to socialise with people. Meditation increases our ability to get out there and connect with others as a result of feeling more connected to ourselves and clearer and more confident about what is happening inside us.
Contrary to popular belief, the benefits of meditation are experienced in varying degrees immediately. Meditating every now and again is great and you will notice a change with each session you do. However a regular daily practice of meditation is the key to experiencing the full force of these exponentially increasing benefits.