Meditation may be an ancient tradition, but it is still practiced in cultures all over the world to create a sense of calm and inner harmony. The popularity of meditation is increasing as more people discover its benefits.
Meditation is a habitual process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts. You can use it to increase awareness of yourself and your surroundings. Many people think of it as a way to reduce stress and develop concentration.
People also use the practice to develop other beneficial habits and feelings, such as a positive mood and outlook, self-discipline, healthy sleep patterns and even increased pain tolerance.
Although the practice has ties to many different religious teachings, meditation is less about faith and more about altering consciousness, finding awareness, and achieving peace.
There is much evidence supporting the numerous benefits of meditation. Below are a few:
1. REDUCES STRESS
Stress reduction is one of the most common reasons people try meditation. Normally, mental, and physical stress cause increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can disrupt sleep, promote depression and anxiety, increase blood pressure, and contribute to fatigue and cloudy thinking. Many styles of meditation can help reduce stress. It is important to choose what works best for you.
2. CONTROLS ANXIETY
Less stress translates to less anxiety. It also reduced symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as phobias, social anxiety, paranoid thoughts, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and panic attacks. Habitual meditation helps reduce anxiety and anxiety-related mental health issues like social anxiety, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
3. PROMOTES EMOTIONAL HEALTH
Some forms of meditation can also lead to an improved self-image and more positive outlook on life. Research shows that maintaining an ongoing habit of meditation may help you maintain these benefits long term.
4. ENHANCES SELF-AWARENESS
Some forms of meditation may help you develop a stronger understanding of yourself, helping you grow into your best self. Self-inquiry and related styles of meditation can help you develop a greater understanding of yourself and how you relate to those around you. This can be a starting point for making other positive changes. Other forms teach you to recognize thoughts that may be harmful or self-defeating. The idea is that as you gain greater awareness of your thought habits, you can steer them toward more constructive patterns.
5. LENGTHENS ATTENTION SPAN
Focused-attention meditation is like weightlifting for your attention span. It helps increase the strength and endurance of your attention. Several types of meditation may build your ability to redirect and maintain attention. Research shows that as little as four days of meditation may have an effect.
6. MAY REDUCE AGE-RELATED MEMORY LOSS
Improvements in attention and clarity of thinking may help keep your mind young. In addition to fighting normal age-related memory loss, meditation can at least partially improve memory in patients with dementia. It can also help control stress and improve coping in those caring for family members with dementia.
7. CAN GENERATE KINDNESS
Some types of meditation may particularly increase positive feelings and actions toward yourself and others. Metta, a type of meditation also known as loving-kindness meditation, begins with developing kind thoughts and feelings toward yourself. Through practice, people learn to extend this kindness and forgiveness externally, first to friends, then acquaintances and ultimately enemies. Research has shown that the more effort people put into Metta meditation, the more positive feelings they experienced. These benefits appear to accumulate over time with the practice of loving-kindness meditation.
8. MAY HELP FIGHT ADDICTIONS
The mental discipline you can develop through meditation may help you break dependencies by increasing your self-control and awareness of triggers for addictive behaviors. Research has shown that meditation may help people learn to redirect their attention, increase their willpower, control their emotions and impulses, and increase their understanding of the causes behind their addictive behaviors. Meditation may also help you control food cravings.
9. IMPROVES SLEEP
Nearly half the population will struggle with insomnia at some point. A variety of meditation techniques can help you relax and control the “runaway” thoughts that can interfere with sleep. This can shorten the time it takes to fall asleep and increase sleep quality. Additionally, it can help relax your body, releasing tension and placing you in a peaceful state in which you are more likely to fall asleep.
10. HELPS CONTROL PAIN
Your perception of pain is connected to your state of mind, and it can be elevated in stressful conditions. Meditation can diminish the perception of pain in the brain. This may help treat chronic pain when used as a supplement to medical care or physical therapy.
11. CAN DECREASE BLOOD PRESSURE
Meditation can also improve physical health by reducing strain on the heart. Over time, high blood pressure makes the heart work harder to pump blood, which can lead to poor heart function. High blood pressure also contributes to atherosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Blood pressure decreases not only during meditation, but also over time in individuals who meditate regularly. This can reduce strain on the heart and arteries, helping prevent heart disease.
Not all meditation styles are right for everyone. These practices require different skills and mindsets. How do you know which practice is right for you? “It’s what feels comfortable and what you feel encouraged to practice,” says Mira Dessy, a meditation author and holistic nutritionist.
Although there is not a right or wrong way to meditate, it is important to find a practice that meets your needs and complements your personality.
Mindfulness meditation originates from Buddhist teachings and is the most popular meditation technique in the West. In mindfulness meditation, you pay attention to your thoughts as they pass through your mind. You do not judge the thoughts or become involved with them. You simply observe and take note of any patterns. This practice combines concentration with awareness. You may find it helpful to focus on an object or your breath while you observe any bodily sensations, thoughts, or feelings.
This type of meditation is good for people who do not have a teacher to guide them, as it can be easily practiced alone.
Spiritual meditation is used in Eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Daoism, and in Christian faith. It is similar to prayer in that you reflect on the silence around you and seek a deeper connection with your God or Universe. Essential oils are commonly used to heighten the spiritual experience. Spiritual meditation can be practiced at home or in a place of worship.
This practice is beneficial for those who thrive in silence and seek spiritual growth.
Focused meditation involves concentration using any of the five senses. For example, you can focus on something internal, like your breath, or you can bring in external influences to help focus your attention.
Try counting mala beads, listening to a gong, or staring at a candle flame. This practice may be simple in theory, but it can be difficult for beginners to hold their focus for longer than a few minutes at first.
If your mind does wander, it is important to come back to the practice and refocus.
As the name suggests, this practice is ideal for anyone who requires additional focus in their life.
Although most people think of yoga when they hear movement meditation, this practice may include walking through the woods, gardening, qigong, and other gentle forms of motion. It is an active form of meditation where the movement guides you.
Movement meditation is good for people who find peace in action and prefer to let their minds wander.
Mantra meditation is prominent in many teachings, including Hindu and Buddhist traditions. This type of meditation uses a repetitive sound to clear the mind. It can be a word, phrase, or sound, such as the popular “Om.”
It does not matter if your mantra is spoken loudly or quietly. After chanting the mantra for some time, you will be more alert and in tune with your environment. This allows you to experience deeper levels of awareness. Some people enjoy mantra meditation because they find it easier to focus on a word than on their breath.
This is also a good practice for people who do not like silence and enjoy repetition.
Transcendental Meditation is a popular type of meditation. This practice has been the subject of numerous studies in the scientific community. It is more customizable than mantra meditation, using a mantra or series of words that are specific to each practitioner.
This practice is for those who like structure and are serious about maintaining a meditation practice.
Also known as body scan meditation, progressive relaxation is a practice aimed at reducing tension in the body and promoting relaxation. Oftentimes, this form of meditation involves slowly tightening and relaxing one muscle group at a time throughout the body. In some cases, it may also encourage you to imagine a gentle wave flowing through your body to help release any tension.
This form of meditation is often used to relieve stress and unwind before bedtime.
Loving-kindness meditation is used to strengthen feelings of compassion, kindness, and acceptance toward oneself and others. It typically involves opening the mind to receive love from others and then sending a series of well wishes to loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and all living beings.
Because this type of meditation is intended to promote compassion and kindness, it may be ideal for those holding feelings of anger or resentment.
Visualization meditation is a technique focused on enhancing feelings of relaxation, peace, and calmness by visualizing positive scenes or images. With this practice, it is important to imagine the scene vividly and use all five senses to add as much detail as possible. Another form of visualization meditation involves imagining yourself succeeding at specific goals, which is intended to increase focus and motivation.
Many people use visualization meditation to boost their mood, reduce stress levels, and promote inner peace.
People practice many different forms of meditation, most of which do not require specialized equipment or space. You can practice with just a few minutes daily.
Could the time of day you meditate make a difference in the results you get from your practice? Although the hours before sunrise are considered prime for meditation, most experts say that anytime you can meditate is a good time.
If you are interested in incorporating meditation into your routine, try a few different styles and consider guided exercises to get started with one that suits you. There are a number of free online resources, which can guide you through different forms of meditation.
Meditation videos on YouTube
Try different forms and find one that suits you. If your regular work and home environments do not allow for consistent, quiet alone time, consider participating in a class. This can also improve your chances of success by providing a supportive community.
Alternatively, consider setting your alarm a few minutes early to take advantage of quiet time in the morning. This may help you develop a consistent habit and allow you to start the day positively.
Making time in the day to meditate is something everyone can do to help restore calm and improve mental and emotional health. Do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try different types. It often takes a little trial and error until you find the one that fits. Gentle, regular practice eventually becomes sustaining, supportive, and enjoyable.
May your choice of meditation bring you peace, joy, good health & happiness.
May the force be with you!
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