The Incredible Health Benefits of Meditation & How to Get Started
Meditating is the act of focusing your mind. Although practitioners often do it for religious, spiritual, or relaxation purposes, growing evidence shows that meditation can have potent benefits for absolutely everyone.
Though the image the word ‘meditation’ likely conjures is one of a person sitting in silence with their legs crossed and eyes closed, there are many ways to meditate.
If you have never meditated before or are newer to it, meditation may seem intimidating, boring, or unproductive, but give us a chance to, and I think we will convince you why it is worth the learning curve!
There are incredible mental, emotional, and physical benefits that you can gain from meditating, many of which we will discuss below. There are also many wonderful (and FREE) resources that we will share with you to help you get started, as well as some tips for those of you who might be struggling to make the habit stick or questioning if you’re doing it right.
Meditation is a useful training that will enhance your overall well-being— but, it takes consistent practice. So why is it worth that effort? Let’s explore.
Greater Mental Focus Leads to a Better Quality of Life
This is a big one.
Meditation can train you to direct the mind, leading to an improved ability to focus your attention. There is so much more stimuli coming into our conscious experience than we are currently aware of, including thousands of thoughts and sensations each day.
When we are not mindful, we tend to revert to old, ingrained patterns, many of which are not helping us in the pursuit of our goals. Examples of these might be negative thoughts or emotional patterns, having our attention pulled away by phone notifications or chronic pain, or reacting with anger when stuck behind a slow driver.
The more you meditate, the greater your ability to focus the mind will grow and the longer your attention span will get. A more focused and attentive mind allows you a greater ability to actively direct your day-to-day perception and experience of life. It cannot be overstated how powerful this can be.
In fact, meditation can diminish the perception of pain in the brain and may help treat chronic pain when used to supplement medical care or physical therapy. It also can decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression, helping to improve mental and emotional well-being.
These are just a couple of examples of how meditation can improve your quality of life by improving your ability to choose where you focus the mind.
Stress Reduction and the Physical Benefits of Reduced Stress
We are probably all familiar with many of the negative health consequences of chronic stress, including increased cortisol levels and increased inflammation. These can negatively impact sleep, mental health, blood pressure, cognition, and more.
It should not be surprising then that meditation, which can help to reduce stress, can also help ameliorate all of the negative physiological consequences of stress.
In an 8-week study, a meditation style called “mindfulness meditation” reduced the inflammation response caused by stress.
Another benefit many experience is a decrease in high blood pressure, which a meta-analysis of 12 studies enrolling nearly 1000 participants concluded was a result of meditation.
Studies have also shown that meditation can help reduce insomnia and improve quality of sleep, and may alleviate symptoms of stress-related conditions, including IBS, PTSD, and fibromyalgia.
While it may not be a panacea, meditation is quite a powerful ally for even chronic physical conditions.
May Reduce Age-Related Memory Loss
Are things starting to get a little foggier the older you get?
Studies in people with age-related memory loss have shown that a particular kind of meditation, called Kirtan Kriya, improves performance on neuropsychological tests. Research also shows that multiple meditation styles can increase attention, memory, and mental quickness in older volunteers.
Promising research has shown that, in addition to fighting normal age-related memory loss, meditation can at least partially improve memory in patients with dementia.
Of course, prevention is always an easier path than treatment, so why not begin meditating as early as possible to gain the biggest cognitive benefits. The improvements in attention and mental clarity may help keep your mind young.
Can Help Control Cravings & Addictive Behaviors
Are there any habits in your life that are holding you back? Meditation might help you kick them!
Meditation may help increase your self-control and awareness of triggers for addictive behaviors.
In a study of individuals undergoing treatment for alcohol use disorder, practicing meditation was associated with decreased stress, as well as decreased alcohol cravings and use after 3 months.
Meditation may also help you control food cravings. A review of 14 studies found mindfulness meditation helped participants reduce emotional and binge eating.
These examples suggest that meditation may be useful for helping you redirect many different kinds of unwanted behaviors, in favor of new healthier habits and patterns.
There are many free resources out there now for anyone who wants to learn to meditate, including a number of awesome apps that have a wealth of free meditation content on them, so you can take meditation with you wherever you may be. Here are three of our favorites!
Calm – Calm is a meditation, sleep and relaxation app. The most popular feature on Calm is a 10-minute meditation called, 'The Daily Calm,' that “explores a fresh mindful theme and inspiring concept each day.” The free version has more limited features, but for all it offers, the premium version for $6 a month is an excellent deal.
Insight Timer – With a library of over 70,000 free guided meditations from over 9,000 teachers, you can meditate on Insight Timer for as long as you want without ever paying for it. Once you get comfortable with the guided meditations, which are helpful for beginning meditators, you can choose to use the timer feature to meditate on your own, with your choice of background noise or silence, for as much or as little time as you like. Another neat feature of Insight Timer is your ability to see data on other users in your area who are meditating with the app alongside you.
The free version of this app is great for more experienced meditators or those who know what they are looking for. For beginners, searching for Learn to Meditate will still yield thousands of results, however the paid version that includes extended comprehensive meditation courses may be more useful. For a yearly subscription, the premium version is less than $5 a month. Also well worth the cost!
Headspace – The free version of the app includes meditations and exercises led by Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe that will teach you the essentials of meditation and mindfulness. If you are a visual learner, Headspace is for you! The lessons come equipped with adorable little cartoon graphics to help you understand the concepts more completely, so you know why you are working on the particular exercise each day. Headspace is excellent for beginners who might feel particularly uncertain about how to meditate and if they are doing it right.
Finally, if you don’t want to download an app on your phone, you can easily access free meditations on YouTube instead:
YouTube– There are tons of free meditations on YouTube that you can search through, but a great place to start for beginners is this “Goodful” meditation playlist, which has a handful of short, themed meditations to get your started on your journey.
The beauty of meditation is that you truly don't need any technology or fancy equipment to do it. It is accessible to absolutely everyone on the planet. That being said, these resources are wonderfully helpful when you need a little guidance or inspiration, and meditating with your smartphone is a great place to start!
1. Aspire to a daily practice, but be flexible and realistic.
Don’t set out to start with 30 minutes of daily meditation if you’ve never meditated for even 2 minutes. If you have a bad week and didn’t make time for it, start again with just 5 minutes, then congratulate yourself for showing up, no matter how well it went.
2. If your mind is wandering and you’re getting distracted, don’t worry about it! It’s part of the process.
You are human and having a busy mind is completely normal! When you catch yourself making a to-do list, wondering if you left your headlights on in the car, or worrying about a conversation that you had last night, silently laugh about it, label it if it helps you (i.e. “thinking” “worrying” etc.), and bring your mind back to focus. You might even find, as you get better at focusing on the object of your attention (commonly your breath) that you’ll forget your focus to congratulate yourself for not being distracted. Laugh about it— really! Meditating is not such serious business.
3. If at first you don’t “succeed”, mix it up!
There are many ways to enjoy the benefits of meditation. If keeping your eyes closed feels difficult, choose a beautiful object to gently focus on. If a guided walking meditation feels more manageable than one done in stillness, pop in some headphones and go for it (just make sure you’re safe when crossing any streets)!
The benefits are more than worth it, whichever method of meditation you choose to explore!