We all know meditation is a positive thing, but did you know there are three ways it can help your health? All it takes is 10 quiet minutes spent observing your own thoughts without judgment. It’s hard for a lot of us to slow down and do absolutely nothing for even two minutes, much less 10, but I promise—if you just make it a regular practice for a few weeks—you’ll love the results and you’ll want to keep going.
Meditation not only has health benefits, but it trains you to stay focused on the present instead of allowing your mind to dwell on the past or go wandering into the future. In a recent paper from Harvardi, researchers said that 46.9% of the time we’re awake is spent thinking about something other than what we’re doing. (Kind of scary, if not sad!) All that time spent away from the present moment actually makes us unhappy, but if we stay in each moment, we really give ourselves the chance to enjoy and enrich our lives.
Heal Your Heart
It makes perfect sense when you stop to think about meditation and heart health. Meditation slows you down. It reduces your stress levels, which I’ll talk about in a minute, and stress has been shown over and over again to wear on your body (including your heart!).
A study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomesii, transcendental meditation was linked with reduced risk of dying (any cause) or having a heart attack or stroke. The study observed 201 African-American men and women with heart disease over the course of 5.4 years.
Other factors, like lifestyle, weight, eating habits, exercise, etc, were taken into account, too. In the end, the researchers found that the ones who meditated regularly had reduced their risk by 48%, had lowered their blood pressure, and felt more immune to stressful situations.
Since the scientists did everything they could to take other potentially contributing factors to the subjects’ health into account and leave the only difference as whether or not they were meditating, this makes a really strong case for using meditation as a form of preventative medicine. It could protect your heart and your overall well-being.
Be Agile, Think Faster
Meditation can help you maintain a focused and more present mind even outside of the quiet area and those 10 minutes per day that you spend doing, well, nothing. That leads to quicker thinking and higher rates of productivity. In a study discussed in Frontiers of Human Neuroscienceiii, researchers found that people who meditated on a regular basis had more gyrification, or folds (the brain is the one place you want to have wrinkles!) than those who did not meditate. The subjects who had meditated the most over the years had the most folds in their brains. The difference in gyrification was especially prominent in areas that are responsible for:
- Motor control
- Facial recognition
- Visual processing
- Cognitive function
- A better handle on your emotions
Each of these things require you to stay focused on the present moment. If you’re distracted when you meet someone, will you remember their face? Will your movements be as controlled and reaction time as quick when your body needs to react to something (maybe there’s a ball flying straight toward your head). For optimal cognitive function in any given moment, you can’t be mentally making your grocery list at the same time, right?
The fact that changes can be made to the brain’s form over years of meditation suggests that the benefits will still apply when you aren’t actively meditating (and they may even last awhile after you’ve stopped meditating, at least temporarily).
Reduce Feelings of Stress
Did you know that regular meditation could keep you from getting flustered and losing your focus in stressful situations? A study from the University of Washingtoniv showed that meditation training can help you stay focused on a task, boost your mood (or at least keep it from going south), keep you from stressing out as much as you might otherwise, and improve your memory.
Three groups of 12-13 subjects were tested on their multi-tasking abilities, then had eight weeks of either no training, mindfulness meditation training, or body relaxation training. When the eight weeks were up, they were asked to go back to work and be tested on the same tasks again. The group that had received no training was then put into a mindfulness meditation course and then tested again after another eight weeks.
The people who had been trained in meditation were able to stay on task longer, rather than allowing their concentration to be completely shattered every time there was an interruption. The study points out that these subjects could choose whether to act on the interruption or not, which is definitely important when you have a lot of things going on at once, even if you are trying to multitask!
The meditators also remembered more from the first time they did the tasks to the second time. The group that received no training experienced the same thing, but only after they had their own round of meditation training.
All groups that participated said the test was pretty stressful, but the meditators were in a better mood and felt less fatigued than the other groups once everything was over.
Isn’t it wonderful to know that so much of your mental and physical wellbeing is in your hands? The beauty of meditation is the ability to do it anywhere. You don’t have to have a special pillow on the floor or your own private patch of dirt between the trees in the forest. You don’t have to have candles or a mantra that you say out loud. You just have to have ten minutes when you’re unlikely to be interrupted and a willingness to sit still and wait.
If you’d like to learn more about meditation, one of the best resources is the Self-Realization Fellowship. I can’t wait to hear how your experiences with meditation go!