If someone stated that it is possible to improve key areas of your life through meditation, would you try it?
What if I told you that this practice could decrease your stress levels, improve your concentration, reduce symptoms of anxiety, and lower your blood pressure?
Yes, it is amazing what just sitting still can do.
Meditation is all about focusing on the present moment, breath by breath, thought by thought. Its benefits are not backed by cheap talk but by science itself. However, some of us still believe that it relates to subjective outcomes when, in fact, it has concrete results, even affecting and altering the brain.
There are different types of meditation, and all of them seem to be beneficial in some way.
I have listed below 5 benefits that you, me, and any person who sticks with this practice can take advantage of. Shall we?
1. It Improves Our Ability to Concentrate
Nothing like working on a Monday morning or on a Friday evening to test our concentration, right?
But the truth is some of us have a hard time concentrating on our tasks on a daily basis.
Meditation makes us focus on the present moment. With practice, we naturally begin to feel more focused on our tasks at hand.
A study from the Harvard Medical School, published in 2011, shows how mindfulness practice increases regional brain gray matter density, which is also related to concentration. The brains of 16 healthy participants (without prior meditative experiences) were scanned before and after they completed an 8-week meditation program. The analysis confirmed that the gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus had increased.
Also, the study results suggest that meditation is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in other brain regions involved in:
- processes related to learning and memory;
- emotional self-regulation;
There are many studies related to this subject, and they also have shown an increase in connectivity among parts of the brain responsible for attentional control.
Most of us think that attention is something we have or do not have, but these studies give us a new perspective showing that it is a skill that can actually be learned.
It is pretty cool, isn’t it?
2. Meditation Improves Our Self-Esteem and Makes Things Clearer
While some meditation techniques focus on emptying the mind and leaving no room for thoughts (which can take years of practice), other methods encourage us to follow the flow of thinking as an observer and/or a person who questions — but without judgment.
This examination alone encourages reflection.
This is one reason why this practice, if repeated day in and day out, improves our self-esteem, which can even help with anxiety and social anxiety.
By slowing down and deeply reflecting on our fears, social norms, tabus, the environment that surrounds us, past traumas, working conditions, and how our thoughts may take a toll on our lives, among other social or personal issues, we tend to make things clearer for ourselves.
All that noise that keeps us from understanding what is going on inside tends to shut itself up over time.
3. It Is a Powerful Tool To Reduce Stress
When it comes to health, stress-related conditions can lead to:
- neurodegenerative factors;
- excess cortisol secretion;
- increased risk of dementia;
- cognitive decline.
A 2013 study shows the effects of mindfulness meditation on serum cortisol, known as the stress hormone. The conclusion is the following:
“Mindfulness meditation lowers the cortisol levels in the blood suggesting that it can lower stress and may decrease the risk of diseases that arise from stress such as psychiatric disorder, peptic ulcer, and migraine.”
In the era of burnout, meditation can be an escape tool for those who are under a lot of stress, especially due to professional reasons.
4. Sitting Still Makes Us More Kind and Loving
No, you will not knock on your neighbor’s door all of a sudden to give him or her a hug.
Although it could be a nice gesture, this person could get suspicious, right?
But meditation generates a series of mental health benefits that help us to have a more kind and loving approach toward others and ourselves. These benefits include what we are discussing in this article:
- improved self-awareness;
- lower levels of anxiety and stress;
- better focus/concentration;
- improved self-esteem.
With all these advantages in place, it is no wonder we tend to become more relaxed and open to the world.
An 8-week study on promoting altruism through meditation suggests that “engaging in the meditations facilitates the tendency for adopting the perspective of others, promotes non-judgmental kindness towards oneself, helps view suffering as a common shared experience, and fosters relations to emotions with mindful attention rather than over-identifying with them”.
This study also confirms what we already read in the previous topic: meditation helps to decrease stress levels. Additionally, the findings suggest that this practice “leads to improved emotional regulation strategies entailing a balanced awareness with one’s ongoing emotional experience (…)”.
It just gets better…
5. It Helps With Anxiety
As the human evolution process occurs, we become more aware of the body & mind intricate relationship: if one of them is sick, the other is probably in distress too.
When something happens, especially something bad, we tend to ruminate over the situation, which leads to anxious thoughts and depressive states. As a result, the whole body ends up suffering.
Since meditation is a powerful tool to reduce stress levels, it also translates to a lower level of anxiety. And yes, this is also backed by extensive studies.
For example, research has shown that meditation can reduce a person’s anxiety level even years after an initial 8-week program. It has concluded that “an intensive but time-limited group stress reduction intervention based on mindfulness meditation can have long-term beneficial effects in the treatment of people diagnosed with anxiety disorders”.
Also, some mindfulness research examines how the subtle art of sitting still and emptying your mind can also offer benefits related to depression.
Check out this short video from Harvard University’s YouTube channel:
The Indian monk, guru, and yogi Paramahansa Yogananda, who is known for spreading spiritual teachings to the West back in the 1920s, says this about meditating:
“By the practice of meditation, you will find that you are carrying within your heart a portable paradise.”
Despite being an essential aspect of religions like Buddhism, meditation is a universal practice. Therefore, each one of us can reap the practical benefits mentioned above.
So, what do you think about giving it a try?