Why You Should Give Meditation a Try
We all want to live longer, happier, healthier lives.
For many of us, a few obvious practices come to mind, like exercising regularly, making healthy dietary choices, drinking more water, getting enough sleep, reducing our alcohol intake, and avoiding toxic chemicals in our cleaning products and cosmetics.
Those are all great when it comes to improving our physical health and well-being — but what about enhancing the state of our mental health?
Meditation has been getting a lot of attention lately as an age-old spiritual practice associated with promoting physical relaxation and a greater sense of peacefulness.
According to psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, more and more people are turning to meditation these days because anxiety and stress are at an all-time high. ”People are looking for effective ways to reduce stress that are not addictive, don't require prescriptions, and don't have the negative side effects of many medications.”
A simple, yet powerful practice in mindfulness, meditation has been around for centuries and has been praised as an effective tool for relieving stress, calming the mind and reducing anxiety — but how does it work exactly? Until recently, the effects of meditation on the brain were largely unknown but several recent studies have unveiled the science behind why meditation works and what it can do for our health and well-being:
LOWER ANXIETY + DEPRESSION: Many studies have shown meditation to be beneficial in managing anxiety with MRI scans revealing that meditation activates the calming anterior cingulate cortex — the part of the brain associated with a reduction in anxiety.
REDUCE STRESS LEVELS: Scientific studies have indicated that meditation can positively regulate the subiculum area of the hippocampus — the area of the brain that controls stress. A study done by research scientists at U.C. Davis showed that meditation can lower the amount of cortisol in the body, the stress hormone. (Less cortisol = less stress = greater capacity for joy.)
IMPROVED CONCENTRATION: Regular meditation is associated with more activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the angular cingulate cortex — the areas of the brain responsible for memory and focus.
BETTER SLEEP: Meditation helps to lower the heart rate by encouraging slower breathing and activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which has been associated with increasing the chances of a quality night’s sleep.
DECREASED LEVELS OF INFLAMMATION: NFk-B is a protein complex that plays a major role in the body's inflammatory response. A randomized controlled trial proved that inflammation of NFk-B can be lowered with meditation.
BOOST IMMUNE FUNCTION: In a study published in the Asian Journal of Psychiatry, meditation was shown to improve the genetic pathways that control our immune system.
BETTER MOOD: Meditation can increase the volume of grey matter in parts of our brain that control our mood. Research has shown that in many cases meditation is as effective as mood-altering medications for improving depression and anxiety. And best of all? Meditation has no potential side effects!
Part of the reason why meditation is such an effective tool is because it provides time to step away from the hectic world outside and process your experience inward.
When we meditate, we're able to access deeper brainwave states, helping to reduce stress, boost brainpower and clear distracting thoughts, while reaching deeper states of awareness and cultivating a stronger spiritual connection with ourselves. Simply put, meditation allows you to slow down, go inward, and give your mind the space and time to just be.
And best of all — it’s completely free.
But let’s face it: making your personal meditation practice a priority on top of juggling everything else that life throws your way can be challenging. Add to that, it can feel a bit daunting to get started.
Speaking from our own experience, we’ve learned that the key to establishing any new habit is to start small. Kickstarting your personal meditation practice can be as simple as carving out just a few quiet minutes each day to sit alone with your thoughts.
But in order to reap the most rewards, consistency is key. We established our regular practice by dedicating the first few waking moments of each day to meditate, starting with just 10mins every morning. (Essentially we told ourselves that our morning cup of coffee would serve as our reward for completing our morning meditation exercise. Hey, who doesn’t love a little incentive?)
Getting started: Find a comfortable place to sit — whether it’s on the couch or propping yourself up on a few cushions on the floor. Rest your hands on your lap or on tops of your knees, palms facing up. Start by observing your breath. Expect that thoughts will come and go — don’t assign any emotion to them. Rather, acknowledge each thought as they come, be indifferent to them, and let them pass — then return back to your breath. Use a simple watch or clock, start with just 5 or 10mins a day, working your way up to 20 or 30mins.
If the thought of going at it solo feels a bit intimidating, there are tons of apps and free videos available online that can help you get started. Simply searching on YouTube for “guided meditation” will yield a ton of results for you to choose from.
Once you get into the habit, prioritizing your meditation practice as a mental health and self-care routine will become second nature and you’ll barely have to think about it. Our hope is that you’ll start to feel the benefits of your practice shortly after you start.
So what are you waiting for? Bust out your cushion, close your eyes, and just breathe.