By Renee Brown
We live in a busy world where stress often reigns supreme. However chronic stress can have a negative impact on our physical and mental health. One way to mediate the negative consequences of stress is through meditation. Meditation is the habitual process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts.
There are two major styles of meditation. Focused-attention meditation concentrates attention on a single object, thought, sound, or visualization. It emphasizes ridding your mind of distractions. This type of meditation may have you focus on your breathing, a mantra, or calming sound. The other type of meditation is open-monitoring meditation. This style encourages broadened awareness of all aspects of your environment, train of thought, and sense of self. It may include becoming aware of suppressed thoughts, feelings, or impulses.
Many studies have shown the positive effects of meditation on mind and body. Here are just a few ways meditation can help improve your overall health:
1. Stress Reduction
Mental and physical stress cause increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol produces many of the harmful effects of stress, such as the release of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. Stress can disrupt sleep, promote depression and anxiety, increase blood pressure, and contribute to fatigue and cloudy thinking. Research has shown that meditation can help reduce stress and improve symptoms of stress-related conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, and fibromyalgia.
2. Improved Emotional Health
Some forms of meditation lead to improved self-image and a more positive outlook on life. Learning to accept things as they are in the present moment keeps the mind focused on the now and not the past or future. A review of several studies suggests meditation may also reduce depression by decreasing cytokine levels.
3. Enhanced Self-Awareness
Some forms of meditation help you develop a stronger understanding of yourself. For example, self-inquiry meditation aims to help develop a greater understanding of yourself and how you relate to others. Other meditation styles teach you to recognize harmful or self-defeating thoughts. By gaining greater awareness of your thought habits, you can steer your thinking toward more constructive patterns.
4. Improved Attention Span
Focused-attention meditation is like weightlifting for your attention span. It helps increase the strength and endurance of your attention while completing a task. Research has found people who regularly practice meditation perform better on visual tasks and had longer attention spans than those without meditation experience. Meditation may even reverse patterns in the brain that contribute to mind-wandering, worrying, and poor attention. Meditating for just 13 minutes daily was shown to enhance attention and memory.
Some types of meditation increase positive feelings and actions toward yourself and others. Metta, also known as loving-kindness meditation, begins with developing kind thoughts and feelings toward yourself. Through practice, people learn to extend this kindness and forgiveness externally, first to friends, then acquaintances, and ultimately enemies. The more time people spend in weekly metta meditation practice, the more positive feelings they experience.
6. Help with Addiction
Research has shown meditation may help people learn to redirect their attention, manage their emotions and impulses, and increase their understanding of the causes behind their addictions. The mental discipline you can develop through meditation may help break dependencies by increasing self-control and awareness of addictive triggers.
7. Improved Sleep
One study found people who meditated stayed asleep longer and had less insomnia compared to those who had an unmedicated control condition. Meditation can help release tension and place you in a peaceful state in which you’re more likely to fall asleep, while also helping you control or redirect the racing thoughts that often lead to insomnia.
8. Pain Control
One review of 38 studies concluded that mindfulness meditation could reduce pain, improve quality of life, and decrease symptoms of depression in people with chronic pain. In the studies, meditators and non-meditators experienced the same causes of pain, but meditators showed a greater ability to cope with pain and even experienced a reduced sensation of pain.
9. Lower Blood Pressure
Meditation can help reduce strain on the heart. In part, meditation appears to control blood pressure by relaxing the nerve signals that coordinate heart function, blood vessel tension, and the “fight-or-flight” response that increases alertness in stressful situations.
There are many different types of meditation, most of which don’t require specialized equipment or space. To get started, choose a form of meditation based on the benefits you’d like to experience and begin with a few minutes of quiet time daily. If your regular work and home environment doesn’t allow for consistent, quiet alone time, consider participating in a meditation class. Meditation is something everyone can do to improve their mental and emotional health.
Renee Brown is the owner MINDBODY-Exhale, which offers yoga and meditation classes, as well as Thai bodywork, reflexology, and reiki. The studio is located at 921 Harmony Road in Eatonton and can be reached at 706-818-1725 or online at exhaleyogalakeoconee.com.