Why should I meditate?
Probably you’ve heard meditation has a plethora of unspecified benefits and you’ve decided you should do it too. Yet, you don’t have the time for it. Feeling overwhelmed mostly comes from the perception that you don’t have enough time, rather than from not having time. Having time is all about where your priorities are and if you think you don’t have 10 minutes a day to focus on being present, you need 20 minutes at least.
There is a variety of studies that show that meditation reduces perceived stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms, and sleep disturbances. At the same time, meditation boosts your mood, immune system, memory, and focus. What is more, long-term meditation practice slows down brain aging. A study done at the University of California has proven that the progress in the ability to maintain attention developed during an intensive three-month meditation retreat is maintained for up to seven years.
In short, science points out that there is hardly anything as powerful that in only 10 minutes a day can transform our mental and physical health. Are you still thinking you don’t have time for it?
Who can benefit the most from meditation?
As the effects of meditation are comprehensive, anyone can benefit from including it in their daily routine. Due to the pace and disconnection from nature of modern-day lifestyles, we seem to need meditation more than ever before.
People suffering from chronic stress
A review of the consequences of stress published in the European Journal of Pharmacology differentiates between acute (short-term) stress and chronic (long-term) stress. Acute stress, caused by daily situations such as a traffic jam or an argument at home, facilitates memory. Chronic stress from overworking, loneliness, loss of a loved one, or becoming unemployed, for example, has adverse effects on brain functions, the immune system, as well as a negative impact on sleep and mood.
As mentioned earlier, meditation can boost all of the above, meaning it can combat the detrimental effects of exposure to long-term stress.
People experiencing anxiety or panic attacks
You might have heard about the fight-or-flight response, also known as an acute stress response (response to short-term stressors). It is a chain of swift changes within the body that prepare a person for facing (fight) or escaping (flight) a potential danger. Rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, blood from surface areas rushing into the muscles and the brain, all mobilize the body for the optimum reaction. The fight-or-flight response is sometimes triggered when there is no actual danger leading to a panic attack.
In the 1970s, professor Herbert Benson at Harvard Medical School identified a common attribute between diverse forms of meditation, including yoga and deep religious prayer. He called “the relaxation response” what he believed to be the opposite of the fight-or-flight response.
People struggling with deep cravings
Addictions are very complex and research continuously re-shapes what we have previously believed about them. The concepts of “taking addictive drugs” and “having an addictive personality” have both collapsed, making way to a new understanding. Addiction is a form of relationship. It can come in many forms, some more commonly recognized than others: gambling, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, sex, food, work, social media, etc.
There have been many studies exploring addictions in-depth by looking at different factors such as genetics, family behavior, brain chemicals, and hormones. If you are interested in this topic, I would highly suggest you read this informative Harvard magazine article on deep cravings.
Here, I would like to focus on one benefit of meditation I have personally experienced without going into the science of how and why it works. Through meditation, you build more awareness that helps you witness thoughts as they are coming. This helps you catch yourself in the moment of having a deep craving and making a decision to fall back to old patterns. When you struggle with any addiction, you might often have the feeling that you have no control and the addiction “does you” rather than “you doing it”. Meditation increases the space between thoughts and gives you “enough time” to realize you do have a choice. With consistent practice, you can not only become aware of the fact that you have an alternative but also pick the one that serves you best.
People having sleep disturbances
Sleep disturbances, as well as having difficulties falling asleep or waking up too early and not being able to go back to sleep affect people of all ages, especially older adults. These issues that often go untreated have an effect on overall wellbeing, concentration, and even personal relationships as lack of sleep can make you more irritable.
A small study on adults with moderate sleep disturbances showed that mindfulness meditation helped them reduce insomnia and depression symptoms. The same study compared receiving training in mindfulness to getting sleep education classes focused on various techniques. Meditation proved to be more effective and also of clinical importance for the treatment of sleep disturbances.
You can find more on the topic of meditation in another blog post where I discuss the best time to meditate. There I also share an easy meditation that helps with falling asleep.
People feeling depressed
More than one in 10 Americans aged 12 or above are taking at least one antidepressant. Some say depression has previously been majorly overlooked, others claim it is on the rise like never before. The truth, most likely, lies somewhere in the middle.
As stress and anxiety are considered triggers of depression, reducing them can also benefit people experiencing depression. What is more, meditation alters the relationship between brain regions associated with depression: the medial prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. The way they function is accessibly explained here in case you want to comprehend how your brain operates.
In addition, people with prominent symptoms of depression have a hard time recalling specific situations and events as depression damages the hippocampus, a brain region associated with memory. Meditation, on the other hand, increases the volume of grey matter in this area, protecting your brain from the damages of depression.
How do I start meditating?
Meditation can benefit just about anyone and any aspect of your physical and mental health. Now the question is, how do you incorporate it into your daily life so that it becomes a habit that serves you long-term. An easy way to begin is with a guided meditation because it requires zero knowledge and is easy for those who have trouble with concentration. Be patient and persistent, and rest assured, you will be rewarded.