MIND & SOUL >
Meditation has, for centuries, been at the center of spiritual evolution among many civilizations on Earth, with written historical records pointing to its earliest inception around 1500 BC. Ancient people understood the psychological as well as the health benefits derived from daily meditation, especially if combined with yoga. As such, meditation took center stage and became widely practiced among Hindus and, later, in Taoist China and Buddhist India.
Unfortunately, and though most of us know or have heard that meditation can help us heal our minds, bodies, and even broken hearts, the practice of daily meditation today is not as commonplace as it was in those ancient times. It’s a shame, especially considering the busy and overly stressful lifestyles we live.
In my own experience, I have found comfort and great relief in incorporating meditation into my daily or weekly routine. Such was my benefit from it that I couldn’t help but dive deeper into research about meditation, especially to learn whether there were any scientific facts to prove what I already knew.
My research led me to Dr. Matthew Thorpe (M.D., Ph.D.) who has reviewed several studies done by several researchers and found the following science-based benefits of meditation:
THE SCIENCE-BASED BENEFITS OF MEDITATION
This is one of the better-known benefits, and it is possibly the most common reason why people take up meditation. Multiple studies have proven meditation can lessen stress, both mentally and physically, as well as inflammation caused by stress.
DECREASE IN BLOOD PRESSURE
Reducing stress will also reduce the stress you place on your heart, meaning that you will reduce your blood pressure. In time, if you meditate regularly, your blood pressure will greatly decrease and this, in turn, can help prevent heart diseases.
The lack of self-worth is rampant in our modern world, with more and more people looking at themselves and their bodies negatively. Meditation can help us change the perspective we have on ourselves. Two of the studies Dr. Thorpe investigated show how meditation reduces depression in adults and another study that shows that meditation can also decrease inflammatory chemicals that affect our mood. Respondents in these studies who practiced meditation indicated they felt more positive and optimistic about themselves and the world at large.
There are meditation styles that can help us uncover more about ourselves and ultimately cultivate a better version of ourselves. Ancient Hindus and modern yogis alike have practiced this form of meditation to connect to their “higher selves” in order to achieve the ultimate liberation of mind, soul, and body into a unity known as moksha. Thorpe summarized three of the studies he reviewed and concluded that meditation can help us identify which thoughts are self-destructive; we can then use this knowledge to re-direct our thoughts toward more passivity. Another study found meditation could also help grow our creative problem-solving strategies.
One study had one group practice meditation to aid with sleep, while another group didn’t. Respondents who practiced sleep meditation found they fell asleep faster and slept for longer. Meditation has the benefit of helping us sort through our thoughts faster and more easily, which then leads to fewer racing thoughts at night while we try to fall asleep. Our body relaxes and releases tension during meditation, which is also conducive to peaceful sleep.
Dr. Thorpe accessed five studies, all of which found that, in some way or another, meditation could help us conquer addiction. Since meditation helps us to control our way of thinking and can assist us in understanding ourselves better, it can also help us with addictions, whether to smoking, drugs, or even overeating. All five studies concluded that those who were addicted, or had been addicted, and who now practiced meditation, no longer struggled with addiction.
REDUCTION IN ANXIETY
Anyone who suffers from anxiety knows that the less stress you have impacting your life, the less anxiety you’ll have during the day. One of the studies Dr. Thorpe consulted found that meditation was helpful for those with anxiety disorders, such as phobias, social anxiety, paranoia, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and panic attacks. Another of the studies indicated that yoga, a part of the meditation practice, can also decrease anxiety levels.
Our mind controls how we feel pain. If we are not in a good state of mind, we may feel pain at a higher level. Meditation will help lessen how we experience pain, which can be beneficial in treating lingering pain and assist us as a physical-therapy tool.
DEMENTIA & MEMORY-LOSS
One of the most startling findings is the benefits of meditation to aid in memory recall. Many forms of meditation use mantras or a chant with a continuous motion, which helps us with our train of thought. Two of the studies Dr. Thorpe discovered show that meditating can help inhibit developmental memory loss and relieve stress in dementia patients.
IMPROVE YOUR ROUTINE
As I continue to meditate and find relief by doing so, I continue to improve upon my own routine. To assist all our FDN Life readers, I’ll share some of the steps I take to enhance my daily meditation routine:
1 – PREPARE your body before your meditation by practicing yoga. Hatha Yoga, especially, helps us get focused by preparing our mind and body for meditation.
2. CREATE YOUR MEDITATION SPACE. It should be clutter-free and be decorated only by what inspires you.
3. THINK ABOUT USING A MALA (a string of meditation beads), if you do not already, as something physical can help you focus on your mantra.
4. SIT WITH THE RIGHT POSTURE as this is very important for energy flow during meditation.
5. AVOID ANY DISTRACTIONS, such as a cellphone or television, as these will impede your ability to relax.
6. USE REGULAR SOUNDS when you meditate, such as listening to your breath or meditation music. (This is also where a mantra comes into play.)
7. MEDITATION IS NOT ABOUT CONTROL; IT IS ABOUT PRACTICE.
8. MEDITATION IS NOT ONLY PRACTICED WHILE SITTING. You can take the practice into your daily life and, if needed, meditate anywhere, wherever you are in the world.
WHAT I FOUND WHILE MEDITATING
Before I made meditation a part of my day, on the days that I had many activities on my plate, including work and other responsibilities, I would struggle to focus and finish one task at a time. Concentration has always been one of my downfalls, but since I started meditating, I have found that focusing my thoughts and paying better attention to the tasks at hand have become much easier. I only wish I had found meditation sooner.
Another point to mention is that I have had sudden, unexplained anxiety from time to time, but again, ever since I began meditating, these episodes have become less frequent. Meditation gave me the ability to breathe and focus my thoughts during these episodes, even though I sometimes do not know the cause of them. My hope is that, one day, meditation will help me know the cause of the sudden bursts of anxiety, but for now I’m content to know that it will help me overcome them.
Whether or not you have considered meditation, I would suggest trying it at least every day for a week. The results might surprise you!