Reviewed By Cara Swanston - Registered Member MBACP Adv. Dip.
The Benefits of Meditation
06 June 2023
Meditation has been around for thousands of years, and it has only been in recent years that science has proven what many have always known - meditation works. Even with only a few weeks of a consistent practice, many of the benefits of meditation can be experienced.
A meditation practice does not have to be complex.
Meditation is simply focused attention and awareness. Many people think that they cannot meditate as they have a busy mind- this is like saying you are too dirty to have a shower! A meditation practice can be the antidote to a busy mind. We will never get a perfectly still mind- we are human after all, and our minds think. All that we need to do during most meditation practices is notice when our mind has wandered away from the point of focus, and simply, compassionately bring it back. It is actually drawing the attention back to the point of focus that supports many of the benefits- this is where the growth happens!
Much research shows the holistic benefits a meditation practice can offer, it can support and positively impact us physically, mentally and emotionally.
Meditation has been linked to
- Lower stress levels
- Lower anxiety levels
- Improved mood
- Recovery from burnout
- Better sleep
- Improved memory
- Better attention and focus
- Enhanced emotional regulation
- More empathy and compassion- for others and yourself
- Improved ability to learn
- Lower blood pressure
- Improvements ion perception of pain
- Better digestion
And the list could go on and on.
One of the most important things that meditation can help us with is our ability to focus. Focus is a superpower these days, and we know that the ability to focus where we choose to is directly linked with happiness.
So, how does meditation work?
Meditation can initiate both state and trait changes. It can help us change our state (in the moment), and it can also lead to long-term trait changes. These changes are brought about by a process called neuroplasticity, which is our brains ability to rewire itself based on our experiences. This means that with consistent practice, trait changes can be our new “default mode” so we can be calmer, more regulated and engage in more prosocial behaviours over the long term. A consistent meditation practice has been seen to make changes to some areas in the brain including:
- Amygdala: Heavily involved in the stress response. It gets smaller and “quieter”
- Hippocampus: emotional regulator associated with self-awareness, memory and empathy- gets denser and bigger.
- Default Mode Network: Active when we’re not thinking about anything in particular. Responsible for mind-wandering aka “monkey mind.” Meditation decreases activity. Even when the mind does start to wander, because of new connections, meditators are better at snapping back out of it.
- Prefrontal cortex: Increases grey matter. Having extra brain cells in this region can boost our ability to make rational decisions.
There are many kinds of meditation. You can engage in the ones you enjoy the most, or engage in one to get the result you need in the moment- for example, yoga nidra or non-sleep deep rest meditations are great to support sleep.
Some meditation styles include:
- Breathwork based
- Introspective- focusing on bodily sensations
- Third Eye (focusing on a point two inches behind the space between your eyebrows)
- Loving Kindness
- Yoga Nidra/Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR)
- Binaural Beats
- Grounding- senses
- Outward focus- candle meditation
- Sit Spot
- Walking Meditation
- Moving meditation
- Meditation through any activity- mindfulness
The important thing about meditation is that we engage in a consistent practice
Pick a time in your day that works for you that you can ringfence for meditation. Maybe it’ll be first thing in the morning, or just before bed, or while you are going for a walk, or taking a few minutes in the car when you arrive home from work. If you make the practice part of your routine you will be more likely to engage in it.
We know that a longer meditation practice has faster, stronger effects. There has been great support for the impact of a 13 minute meditation, but even a few minutes consistently can have a huge impact. In meditation, there is no goal or end point, the goal is simply the practice. Settle into the stillness, and enjoy the moments of reconnection with yourself.
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