Why the Importance of Meditation Isn’t What You Gain, but What You…
Lose. Some people want to know what each positive lifestyle change will give them–what they’ll gain from it– but today I want to tell you why the importance of meditation isn’t what you gain, but what you lose. Yes, meditation can bring you more clarity, focus, and calm, but it also removes some things from your life, and that’s equally beneficial.
Lose Critical Thoughts of Yourself and Others
One of the things you learn from a regular meditation practice is to observe the thoughts that creep in without judgment. Witness them, then let them go. This type of observing without the hang-ups of making a judgment carries over into the rest of your life and affects how you think about yourself and other people.
You can expand your mind and become more open to seeing the beauty in yourself and others (judgment may crowd things out and limit your perspective). When you limit critical thoughts, you begin to see your amazing potential and believe in it enough to act upon it.
Lose Stress and Anxiety
There have been numerous studies on mindful meditation’s ability to reduce stress and anxiety. In one, “mental silence” was shown to help reduce work stress and depression. It suggested that meditation is superior to other relaxation techniques and could be used in real life to benefit society’s overall psychological health (plus it’s free!). So start shushing your mind on a regular basis and enjoy the happy benefits!
Yoga, which is a form of active meditation, has also been shown to assist with not only stress and anxiety relief, but improved mood and possibly even PTSD as well. If you have a hard time sitting still with your thoughts, you may want to start by rolling out the yoga mat. Once you’ve learned to focus on your breath and quiet your mind while moving, you may be able to more easily transition into seated, still meditation. Some people have an intense aversion to just sitting still, but it’s probably (likely!) what they need most. Yoga could be the baby step toward that calmer, clear-headed goal.
Finally, one additional study showed that practicing meditation before a stressful event (in this case, a stressful computer game) decreased the effects of stress without reducing the improved memory that may be a positive side-effect of stress.
Meditation can actually turn you into somewhat of an optimist. Loving kindness meditation has been shown to boost positive feelings, which displace feelings that may have crept in before beginning the practice and take your glass from half empty to half full. In six, hour-long group sessions over the course of seven weeks, participants enjoyed guided meditation that first focused on self-love, then rippled out into love and compassion for family and friends, acquaintances, and finally strangers and all living beings. They experienced an increase of nine positive emotions: amusement, awe, joy, contentment, pride, love, gratitude, hope, and interest. Those can’t really coexist with fear, anger, resentment, envy or any of those negative things that bring us down.
Greatist has a fantastic post on using mindfulness meditation to address negative thoughts.
Lose (or at Least Reduce) Chance of Heart Disease
Even modern medicine has begun to accept the idea that meditation can do a lot of heart health. In a study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes that focused on 201 black men and women, researchers found transcendental meditation to reduce the risk of heart disease in African Americans by quite a bit! The meditation group had a 48% reduced risk of stroke, heart attack, or heart disease related death after 5.4 years.
Have you ever gotten so stuck on a problem, you couldn’t see any solutions? Could you only see one or maybe even two solutions, try them, and find yourself back at square one when they didn’t work out as planned? Tunnel vision like this can creep up when you’re super stressed and anxious or just way too busy, not allowing yourself breathing room or time to think about, well, nothing at all.
Now, think about a problem you had that seemed huge, but once you gave it a rest and walked away, everything seemed clear to you. A study in Frontiers of Psychology compared the effects of open monitoring meditation (observing your thoughts without reacting to them) and focused attention (focusing on one object the entire time) meditation. Open monitoring produced a mindset that inspired several creative solutions. Meditation clears your mind so you’re able to see additional options—more creative solutions. With an open mind, you’re able to navigate through problems with less resistance than you would if you had a very rigid, self-imposed path you felt the need to take.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, maybe you need a minute to eliminate all the daily distractions so you can open your brain up to creative activity and problem solving. Zen Habits has an interesting post on that and other ways meditation can benefit you.
No, sitting still won’t magically make the pounds melt off, but what it will do is help you become more mindful of what you’re eating and how you’re spending your time (a yoga session instead of an episode of The Bachelor). You’ll begin to pay attention not only to your food choices, but you’ll remember how to really relish the flavors and textures of what you do eat. Not only that, but you may explore your thoughts and emotions so well that you no longer have the same cravings you once did.
Your diet won’t become perfect overnight, of course. However, you may find that if you splurge, it’s more likely to be a small one. You’ll have your moment, and then you’ll move on. You won’t feel as compelled to absentmindedly go through a dozen cookies when you really savored the first (and only) one. You may even find that you don’t crave the cookies as much anymore and a square of organic dark chocolate scratches the sweets itch nicely.
Sit up in a chair or on a pillow on the floor, back straight, arms relaxed, eyes closed.
Breathe in through your nose, slowly, focusing on the sound of the air entering your body. Think about the air moving in through your nose, down your throat, and filling your lungs.
Then do it in reverse as you exhale through your nose.
Remember to breathe slowly. Keep this up for two minutes at first, then progress to five, then 10, and so on from there as you feel comfortable.
Sometimes stripping all the unnecessary mental noise away and getting back to the core essence of who you are is as refreshing as a good night’s sleep. That’s why the importance of meditation isn’t what you gain, but what you lose instead.