Meditation is something I thought about for many years before I actually tried it. While I was a bit skeptical at first, I’ve found that research continues to point to meditation as an accessible and meaningful way to cope with physical and emotional stress. It can be a daily ritual that enhances your overall health and well-being. 1
Benefits of meditation
Studies and clinical treatment plans suggest meditation may help ease symptoms of people experiencing:
- High blood pressure1
- Irritable bowel syndrome1
- Anxiety and depression1
- Smoking cessation1
- Stress-induced inflammation1
- Eating disorders2
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder2
What is meditation?
Mindfulness is the ability to become fully present and aware of the current moment. Meditation is a way to achieve mindfulness through regular, focused practice. When meditating, the goal is to turn inward and to remain focused on whatever subject you’ve chosen.
How does meditation work?
While research has shown measurable changes and plasticity in the brain after introducing a meditation practice3,4, new data indicates a connection between meditation and the physical thickening in four regions of the brain.4 Additionally, the amygdala, the area of our brain responsible for “fight or flight” response, appeared to shrink in those who went through a mindfulness-based stress reduction program.5
We could all benefit from a mindfulness practice like meditation.
It’s easy to do, it’s accessible to anyone, you can do it anywhere and the benefits are priceless. Note: Meditation is not a replacement for medications or supplements you may currently be taking. As always, be sure to check with your doctor when introducing new exercises or programs into your treatment plan.
Five tips to creating a meaningful meditation practice
1. Keep it simple
You don’t need fancy books or programs. Start with an application on your smart phone or an audio recording and some headphones. Apps like “Simply Being” or “Calm” on iTunes are great places to start.
2. Keep it short (at first)
If you are new to the practice of meditation, you don’t need to start with long meditations. Start with 5 – 10 minutes and stick with that until you feel the need to increase! Your body and mind will tell you when you can extend the time.
3. Keep it timely
Try to meditate at the same time every day, most days of the week. Your brain will change with the ritual of meditation and keeping it in a rhythm makes this change faster and more effective. Early morning just after you wake up is a great time to begin your practice.
4. Embrace the noise
Most people think of quiet and peace when they think of meditation. While the goal is to get you to that place, the beginning stages of meditation can be noisy and full of mind chatter. Accept it, acknowledge it and let it go, always bringing yourself back to your breath. With time and practice, this will fade on its own. The more you try to clear your mind, the more chaotic it will become.
5. Position is personal
We’ve all seen the image of a person sitting cross-legged when they meditate. While there are many benefits to this position, if you prefer lying in bed, on the floor or on a couch, then do that! The goal is to keep yourself comfortable and make the experience enjoyable, so you will continue to practice regularly.
Try it out and start meditating with this list of free resources:
- Introduction to Mindfulness and Meditation
- Basic Mindfulness Meditation
- Guided Meditations from UCLA Health
- Guided Meditations by Jill Lemke
3 Sevinc G, Hölzel BK, Hashmi J, Greenberg J, McCallister A, Treadway M, Schneider ML, Dusek JA, Carmody J, Lazar SW. Common and Dissociable Neural Activity After Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Relaxation Response Programs. Psychosomatic Medicine [Internet]. 2018;80 (5) :439-451.
4 Lazar, S. W., Kerr, C. E., Wasserman, R. H., Gray, J. R., Greve, D. N., Treadway, M. T., … Fischl, B. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport, 16(17), 1893–1897.