Updated: Jul 14
If there was something you could do every day to feel energized, increase productivity, reduce stress, lower anxiety, decrease headaches and sleep better, would you do it? Yes! Of course, we want all of those things in our lives.
Meditation helps with all of these health benefits and more. It is not just a new fad; there is a significant amount of scientific evidence that supports the many benefits of meditation on the body and the mind. Although meditation has become a more widespread practice in recent years, it has been around for thousands of years. Meditation can help manage a variety of conditions, from reoccurring headaches, to anxiety and emotional distress. It has been scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, reduce cortisol, lower inflammation, improve digestion, and improve sleep.
I work with patients in my functional medicine practice on ways to get started meditating and how meditation can improve their overall health. Here are four ways meditation can benefit your health:
1. The mental benefits of meditation:
Perhaps the most popular benefit of meditation is its ability to calm the mind. As a result, meditation is a great tool used by mental health professionals all over the world. It can help with anxiety and depression and can be taught as a therapeutic coping mechanism in emotion-focused coping strategies.
Meditation is also an excellent way to manage stress. Psychologically it helps to calm the mind, cultivating mental peace, clarity, and tranquility. Physically, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which shifts the body to a more relaxed mode of functioning. A regular meditation practice can also lower the production of various stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline.
2. Physical benefits of meditation:
There are many ways that meditation can improve our physical health. Regular meditation practice has been scientifically shown to improve sleep quality, stimulate the immune system, lower blood pressure, and help lower inflammation levels in the body.
Stress produces a hormonal response that causes weight gain, anxiety, and other health issues. Cortisol is an adrenal hormone that helps you to get quick energy. This hormone helps you survive in the face of danger, but it also shuts down digestion and slows your metabolism.
The stress response has a purpose, and your body can handle it short-term, but prolonged stress and high levels of cortisol cause high blood sugar, high blood pressure, increased belly fat, and high cholesterol. By helping you calm your mind and bring the body into the parasympathetic nervous system, mediation helps to lower your stress hormone and bring your body back into balance.
Meditation can also help with chronic pain problems by improving pain tolerance. Last but not least, a regular meditation practice can also help improve the posture and strengthen the spine.
3. The emotional benefits of meditation:
Meditation is also known to improve self-awareness, which can be the root-cause of problems like eating disorders or substance abuse.
A regular meditation practice can improve wellbeing and self-compassion. It nurtures a sense of kindness within the practitioner, toward the self and other people. Meditation can also help improve self-esteem, allowing the practitioner to view life from a better, more positive perspective.
4. The cognitive benefits of meditation:
The effects of meditation on brain function are also notable. Steady meditation practice has been shown to thicken the pre-frontal cortex which is the brain center responsible for awareness, decision-making, and concentration.
As a result, people who regularly meditate have better concentration and focus, great executive function, and an improved attention span. Meditation can also enhance memory, and increase creativity and imagination.
Where Should you begin?
To meditate, you just need to find a comfortable seated position, either legs crossed or sitting on a chair. Make sure that you will not be bothered and keep your spine straight. You can close your eyes or keep them open. The most important thing is to choose an anchor to focus on, bringing your awareness back to it every time you find your attention drifting away.
I often recommend starting with a guided meditation. That way, you can learn to focus on the voice and practice clearing your mind. Many great apps have guided meditations, including Breethe, Headspace, Insight timer, and Calm. YouTube also has many guided meditations you can listen to for free. Mantra meditation, where you say or think the same word repeatedly, is also a helpful tool to keep your mind focused. There are many different forms of meditation, and ultimately, you can choose the one that works best for you. Try starting with 5-10 minutes daily to get in the practice of meditation before attempting to do it for the more often recommended 20 minutes daily.
Meditation is a fantastic tool with great benefits for the body, mind, and soul. It is easy to learn and accessible, which makes it an excellent ally for overall health. Learning to meditate is simple, and with a bit of time and effort, you can reap all the benefits that meditation offers.