The mind has enormous power to influence our health. Upset about something at work? You’ve just increased your blood pressure. Laughing at a good joke? You’ve helped to activate immune cells. Meditation is the practice of focusing the mind, gaining awareness, and acquiring a healthy sense of perspective. Its training to observe your thoughts and feelings, not to turn them off. You’re learning to examine them and eventually gain some understanding.
So why would you undertake meditation? Well, aside from some soul searching or spiritual applications, science has shown numerous reasons to take up the practice. We’re going to look at some major reasons a few minutes of meditation a day would be a huge benefit to your health.
Because pain is a perception integrated in the brain, our state of mind has a direct impact on it. One study used MRI to observe brain activity as participants experienced pain. A group that had been meditating for just 4 days showed increased activity in the areas of the brain known to control pain and a reported less sensitivity to pain. Other studies show similar things with chronic or long-term pain.
Meditators have a greater ability to cope with pain and experience less pain. Meditation can help treat chronic pain when used as a supplement to medical or chiropractic care.
It’s one of the most common reasons people try meditation. Stress causes increased levels of the hormone cortisol. This is what produces many of the harmful effects of stress; inflammation, disrupted sleep, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and more.
An eight week study found meditation reduced the inflammation response with stress. Another found that meditation’s stress relief was strongest in those with the highest levels of stress. Research shows that it improves many stress-relates conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, and fibromyalgia.
Relief of stress can improve your sleep, mood, and many other aspects of your life. Meditation is one way to accomplish that.
Decrease blood pressure
Chronic high blood pressure makes the heart work harder which can lead to heart disease. High blood pressure also contributes to atherosclerosis which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. One study found that simply repeating a silent mantra can reduce blood pressure by 5 points on average.
Meditation appears to control blood pressure by relaxing the body and taking it out of the “fight-or-flight” response. A review of the literature shows that many different types of meditation improve blood pressure. The benefit is not restricted to just the time spent meditating. Over time meditation lowers blood pressure in those who do it regularly.
You don’t need to climb a mountain to learn meditation from monks. Start today, if you want. Guided meditations are performed in response to the guidance provided by a trained practitioner or teacher. This is really helpful for beginners as a coach is talking you through the process. Thanks to technology, its accessible at your fingertips with something you carry with you every day.
Apps like Insight Timer are free to use and have audio collections of guide meditation sessions. There are also some paid apps, like Headspace, that have a larger collection and let you pick your favorite teacher to walk you through the process. Headspace does have a free trial, so try before you buy. If you already pay for Spotify, there are some playlists with pre-recorded mediation guides.
Guided meditation is a great way to get start, but its not the only way. So don’t hesitate to experiment with different types. There are also many other health benefits, like lengthening attention span and fight addiction, but we didn’t have enough time to include them all in one article. Check back every Wednesday for more wellness articles!