Do you ever wonder what meditation is all about? You’ve probably heard people talking about it, especially in recent years, since it’s become more popular.
People from all walks of life are finding meditation a powerful and effective practice for reducing stress. Here’s how it works: by quieting your mind and becoming mindful of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations—while observing them in a nonjudgmental manner—you become tranquil, and many aspects of life become clear.
There are many ways to practice meditation, including:
- Deep breathing
- Focusing on different parts of the body
- Walking meditation
- Mindfulness meditation
- Centering prayer
- Transcendental Meditation®
How to Meditate
Most often, meditation starts with choosing a quiet place, free from distractions. You sit or rest quietly with your eyes closed, noticing your breathing and physical sensations. You gently observe all intruding thoughts, and you release them without judgment. You can also achieve a relaxed but alert state by focusing on a pleasant idea or thought, or by chanting a phrase or special sound silently or aloud.
Your attitude during meditation is important, because it reflects the way you deal with your emotions, thoughts, and changing moods. The most beneficial attitudes for meditation are acceptance, gratitude, and openness to the wisdom you receive during the process.
Meditation is especially beneficial to enhance health or for people who wish to improve specific medical conditions, particularly conditions often associated with stress, such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, chronic pain, and cancer. Meditation may also be an effective adjunct to other therapeutic modalities like massage therapy or acupuncture, and it can be a catalyst for learning improved coping skills and reducing clinical symptoms.
Can you see how meditation can improve quality of life? Here are some of the physiological benefits of meditation:
- Improved airflow to the lungs
- Increased energy level
- Decreased cortisol (a major stress hormone)
- Increased skin resistance (due to decreased anxiety and perspiration)
- Decreased heart and respiration rates
- Decreased blood pressure
- Decreased muscle tension
- Increased alpha waves (due to increased relaxation)
- Decreased pain and pain perception
Some of the psychological benefits of meditation include:
- Improved mental and emotional health
- Increased productivity and creativity at work
- Reduced perception of stress
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- Increased degree of self-actualization
- Increased locus of control
- Improved sleep
- Decreased tendency to worry
- Improved concentration and focus
Scientists now embrace the concept of ongoing brain development and neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s lifelong ability to change. MRIs show that we can create new brain cells (neurons) by engaging in certain types of activities, and connections between neurons can grow; and, meditation is one of the activities that can make this happen. For people who routinely meditate, changes in the brain occur (plasticity), which can increase their sense of well-being and quality of life!