- What is Meditation?
- How to Get Started Meditating?
- Meditation Reduces Stress
- Meditation Improves Sleep Quality
- Meditation Improves Concentration and Focus
- Meditation Reduces Anxiety Levels
- Meditation Alleviates Pain
- Meditation Enhances Mental Health
- Meditation Generates Empathy and Kindness
- What is a Guided Meditation like?
- Types of Meditation
Do you know the stress level of the average adult in the US? Out of a 10-point scale, we’re a 5.0 and have been like this for many years. This was reported by the American Psychological Association in 2020 (1) and needless to say, those results were pretty high! Having consistently elevated stress levels can have some serious consequences on your health. But there’s a natural method to effectively treat stress and all its side effects: meditation. So let’s discuss the many benefits of meditation and how it can help you overcome stress, fatigue, and even anxiety.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a practice that has been around for thousands of years, and there’s a very good reason why it’s stood the test of time. It is an incredibly effective way to calm the mind and body and often leads to an absolutely positive transformation in your life. There is no one-size-fits-all definition of meditation, but generally speaking, it refers to techniques designed to boost awareness and focus. Meditation can also be seen as a tool for changing consciousness, and research suggests it comes with a wide range of benefits for mental health.
There’s a reason meditation is considered a practice. Like most things in life, it takes time to fully unlock all the benefits of meditation, but it only takes minutes to experience its positive results. One huge misconception is that getting started is difficult and requires a lot of time. The truth is you can start your journey with a simple 5-minute practice every day.
There are two keys to start meditating successfully:
- Be patient with yourself
- Meditate consistently (even if it’s 5 minutes a day)
If you can commit to those two things, then you’re well on your way to experiencing the many benefits of meditation!
How to Get Started Meditating?
To get started meditating, find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably for 5-10 minutes each day. A quiet place is always recommended in order to avoid distractions and get the most out of your practice. While meditating, you’ll focus on your breath and allow your thoughts to come and go without judgment. Always remember to be patient with yourself- your mind will wander and that’s okay. Results will be almost immediate, and best of all, they start small and grow as your practice develops.
A great way to start to meditate is with guided meditation. Guided meditations will have somebody talking you through the entire process, step-by-step. This can be really helpful if you’re new to meditation or if you find it difficult to quiet your mind. Guided meditations are also great because they can be tailored to whatever you need at that moment. If you’re feeling stressed, there are guided meditations specifically for relaxation. If you’re struggling with anxiety, there are guided meditations that can help with that as well. And if you’re just looking for a way to center yourself and focus on the present moment, there are plenty of those types of meditations as well.
When it comes to reaping the benefits of meditation, how long you meditate is not as important as how frequently you do it. In other words, it’s better to meditate for a short period of time every day than to try and fit in one long session once a week. Getting started with just 5 minutes per day and doing your best to practice every day is a great way to start.
Meditation Reduces Stress
There are so many benefits of meditation, that it’s hard to know where to start! One of the most important benefits is reducing stress levels. When we are stressed, our bodies go into “fight or flight” mode. This is an evolutionary response that served us well when we were faced with physical threats, but in today’s world, things are different; we are constantly bombarded with stressors that are not life-threatening, but our bodies react as if they were. This constant state of stress can have some serious consequences on our health, both mental and physical.
Some of the effects of chronic stress include:
- Digestive issues
- Muscle tension
How many of those symptoms did you have? How much do they affect you? Hopefully, your answer was “none” (you’re just exploring meditation). But those are important questions to ask yourself because oftentimes, people experiencing stress may not even realize it; they’re so used to the feeling that it becomes a regular part of their lives. So, if you feel more than one of those symptoms every week, or every day then you’re probably experiencing too much stress! Meditation can help to reduce stress levels and alleviate those symptoms.
Meditation Improves Sleep Quality
Another common benefit of meditation is improved sleep quality. When stressed, our bodies produce more of the hormone cortisol in order to deal with stressful situations. However, people who are constantly stressed will experience cortisol levels that are regularly elevated and this can lead to difficulty sleeping. This is because our bodies become wired and ready for action, instead of winding down for rest when it’s time.
If you’re struggling with insomnia or just want to improve your sleep quality in general, meditation is a great place to start. There are even specific types of meditation known as “sleep meditations” that are designed to help you fall asleep.
A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine compiled data from 49 participants who reported difficulty sleeping. The participants were divided into two groups; one received a mindfulness awareness treatment that taught them meditation and other activities intended to assist them to concentrate on “moment-by-moment experiences, thoughts, and emotions.” The second group was enrolled in a sleep education program that covered the importance of sleep.
Both groups met six times, once a week for two hours. Compared with the people in the sleep education group, those in the mindfulness group had less insomnia, fatigue, and depression at the end of the six sessions (2). They also reported feeling more rested in the morning- I’m sure if you fell asleep faster and woke up less overnight, you’d feel a lot more rested in the morning too.
Meditation Improves Concentration and Focus
In this fast-paced world, it can be easy to get caught up in our thoughts and worry about things that have happened in the past or may happen in the future. Our own thoughts along with technology, which is very distracting, have made concentrating far more difficult than its ever been. Whether we’re trying to focus at work or school, or just want to be present in our day-to-day lives, sometimes it feels like our minds are constantly racing from one thing to the next. This can make it difficult to concentrate and stay focused on what we’re doing, which could also lead to feelings of anxiety and stress. One of the benefits of meditation is that it can help us focus on the present moment and let go of those worrisome thoughts.
Meditation can help improve your concentration and focus by teaching you to control your thoughts and be more present. When you’re focused on the present, you are able to be more mindful of your thoughts and actions. This can even lead to better decision-making. Additionally, being in the present moment can help you better appreciate your life.
A study published in the NIH National Library of Medicine explored whether a brief mindfulness meditation improves attention in novices. The results found that the group that participated in a 10-minute guided meditation before being asked to complete different tasks performed better than their control group. All the participants were complete novices and were assessed by their response time and accuracy. The study suggests the group that meditated had improved working memory capacity and were better able to focus on the task at hand, making them less anxious and more confident when decision-making.
If you find yourself getting easily distracted, having trouble focusing, or worrying about things beyond your control, meditation may be the perfect holistic solution for you. It may help you to become more focused and clear-headed so that you can make better decisions every day.
Meditation Reduces Anxiety Levels
Anxiety is another common issue that people face today. People who suffer from anxiety often have racing thoughts, feel tense, and have difficulty concentrating. It’s often a product of stress and can have a very serious impact on your physical and mental health. Some of the effects of anxiety include:
- Panic attacks
- Racing heart
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle tension
If you suffer from anxiety, you know how debilitating it can be. It can make it difficult to concentrate at work or school and make social situations very uncomfortable. Fortunately, meditation can help you slow down and focus the mind, which can lead to a reduction in anxiety levels.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University looked through almost 19,000 studies on meditation and found 47 trials tying it to reductions in anxiety. According to one study, a mindfulness-based stress reduction program (MBSR) effectively alleviated anxiety symptoms in individuals with generalized anxiety disorder. This disorder (GAD) is characterized by frequent and uncontrolled worry, insomnia, and restlessness.
Anxiety is also treated with medication and there are many people currently on prescriptions for relief. While medication is helpful for many, it’s important to note that it is not a cure-all approach. Additionally, long-term use of some medications can result in unwanted side effects.
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably looking for a holistic approach to treating your anxiety. I’ve personally found that meditation is an excellent option. Even in severe cases, meditation has been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety levels and can be done in conjunction with other forms of treatment such as medication and/or therapy.
There are many different types of guided meditations specifically for anxiety that can help you to relax and feel more comfortable in anxious situations. We’ll explore those later.
Meditation Alleviates Pain
Pain is another common condition that can be alleviated by meditation. People who suffer from chronic pain often have difficulty sleeping, feel anxious, and have a lower quality of life. Are you noticing how all these symptoms are interconnected somehow? While medication can be helpful for many, it’s important to note that it is not a one-size-fits-all type of approach, especially when taking side effects into account.
Meditation has been shown to be an effective way to alleviate pain. Another recent study published in the NIH National Library of Medicine with 864 test subjects with lower back pain. The researchers concluded that meditation was associated with short-term improvement in pain intensity and physical functioning for the participants.
This is great news for anybody trying to find a holistic approach to pain relief. If you’re in pain, just imagine how much better your life would be if you could reduce or even eliminate it.
Meditation Enhances Mental Health
Mental health is a broad term that refers to our cognitive, emotional, and social well-being. Mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, are becoming more and more common today. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness (52.9 million in 2020). Their conditions vary in degree of severity, ranging from mild to moderate to severe.
Mental illness is a broad term that can be used to describe many different conditions, each of which can have a serious effect on sufferers. Physicians treat these illnesses with a combination of medication and therapy. For many, these treatments help them maintain a fairly regular lifestyle. But for others, their mental health battle is a daily bout with wild swings in severity.
There’s really no easy answer to why humans battle mental health, but much like the previous examples given, meditation has been shown to be effective in treating these mental illnesses, including depression, PTSD, and addiction. In many cases, it’s added to supplement medication and/or therapy, while others exclusively seek a holistic approach and use meditation as their only form of relief.
Meditation Generates Empathy and Kindness
When we think of meditation, we often think of it as a way to improve our own mental and physical health. But did you know meditation also helps people generate empathy and kindness toward others? In one study, people who participated in a compassion meditation program had significantly higher levels of empathy and compassion than the control group, which participated in a different type of program.
Empathy and kindness towards others will actually have a very positive effect on your well-being as well. It’s a concept known as the “helper’s high.” When you help others, even if it’s just showing kindness and empathy, your brain releases oxytocin and endorphins, which have mood-boosting properties. So not only will the person you’re helping feel better, but you’ll also get a mental health boost too.
Empathy, kindness, and compassion are incredibly important traits, especially in a world that’s filled with so many challenges and distractions. It’s important to exhibit those emotions towards the people around us as well as ourselves, which is usually last in our list of kindness. This is why meditation is so helpful- it’s a proven way to further develop our ability to be kind, empathetic, and compassionate.
What is a Guided Meditation like?
Some people won’t even consider meditating because they know their minds can’t settle while other people become anxious or stressed at the mere thought of having to meditate. Isn’t that funny? Those are the exact two emotions meditation is credited for alleviating; stress and anxiety. But I can’t blame you. I will say this, it can be very difficult to silence the mind for just about every single person that starts meditating, which is why this is called a practice. This is also why it’s easier to start meditating using resources like guided meditations. Having a comforting voice lead you through your practice, regardless of experience level, will ensure you’re on the right track throughout your meditation session.
If you’re not sure how to get started, I’d like to help! Meditation is a practice that takes time to develop in order to experience all of its benefits. But even beginners with zero experience will experience some type of improvement in their well-being after their first attempt.
To start, I always recommend you use guided meditation because it helps to focus your attention properly. It’s absolutely natural that your mind wanders time and time again during the process of meditating, which is why having somebody hold your hand is incredibly helpful. Sometimes the combination of the human voice guiding you along with nicely crafted music can have a profound effect on your experience.
Guided meditations can be catered to the specific type of meditation you’re attempting. Maybe you’re meditating for better sleep, or to ease anxiety. There are even those that focus on building self-esteem and confidence. No matter what your goal is, there’s a guided meditation out there for you.
If you want to try meditating on your own, that’s great too! But be warned: it does take quite a bit of practice to get good at settling the mind. In the beginning, it might feel like all you’re doing is sitting in silence with your thoughts running rampant through your head. That’s okay! Just keep practicing and eventually, you’ll develop the ability to settle those pesky thoughts.
There are many different types of meditation and discovering your favorite one is part of the fun. To make your life simpler, I’ve created a small list with descriptions for you to choose from. Go through them and jot down which ones speak to you the most. From there, try diving deeper into the couple you selected until you feel confident one speaks to you.
Types of Meditation
These meditations involve focusing your attention on the present moment and being aware of your thoughts and feelings without judgment. This can help you to become more aware of yourself and your emotions, and learn how to control them.
These meditations involve picturing yourself in a peaceful or relaxing place. This can help to ease anxiety and stress, and promote relaxation.
Breath Awareness Meditation
These exercises involve focusing on your breath and counting each inhale and exhale. This can help to improve concentration and focus and promote relaxation.
These meditations involve picturing someone you love and wishing them well-being. You can then extend this wish to yourself, followed by picturing someone you don’t know very well and wishing them the same. This type of meditation can improve your sense of self-compassion and empathy.
These meditations involve picturing someone who is suffering and imagining yourself feeling compassion for them. This can help you to develop a more compassionate attitude towards others.
Body Scan Meditations
These meditations involve focusing your attention on each part of your body, from your toes to the top of your head. This can help you to become more aware of your body and ease any tension you may be holding onto.
These meditations involve focusing on relaxing your whole body, from your toes to the top of your head. This can help you to promote relaxation and ease stress and anxiety.
Here’s a short example of how a 5 minute guided meditation starts:
First, find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Then, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, and exhale slowly through your mouth. As you breathe, focus your attention on the rise and fall of your chest. Continue breathing in this way for a few minutes.
Now, begin to notice the thoughts that are running through your mind. Don’t judge them or try to stop them, just observe them as they come and go. If your mind begins to wander, simply bring your attention back to your breath. Continue observing your thoughts in this way for the remainder of the meditation.
Meditation has so many benefits that it would be impossible to list them all in one blog post. However, I hope this has given you a better understanding of what meditation is and how it can help you in your daily life. Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to meditation – when you find a style that works for you, try to stick with it, but don’t be afraid to experiment with other techniques too. With regular practice, you’ll soon reap the many rewards that meditation has to offer. Thanks for reading!
(1) Stress in America 2020, A National Mental Health Crisis. American Psychological Association
(2) Mindfulness meditation helps fight insomnia and improves sleep. Harvard Health Publishing