In the past decade, you’ve probably heard one too many times about meditation. The message seems to be everywhere – on TV, all over social media, and in the news. Celebrities are talking about it, experts are talking about, major corporations are building it into their company culture. Even old set structures like healthcare and education are now incorporating it into their regimen.
Why, you ask? How can sitting cross-legged on the floor for ten minutes a day help people solve the problems that are weighing them down? Meditation cannot pay bills, help solve a messy divorce or bring back a loved one.
Indeed, but people trying meditation keep reporting major changes in all areas of their life regardless of how challenging their circumstances are at the moment. In this blog, we will look at some of the most common benefits of meditation for mental health and overall personal happiness.
1. Deep Inner Peace
The overwhelming majority of people trying meditation for at least a week report increased feelings of deep inner peace. Because meditation stimulates parasympathetic response (the rest-and-digest mode) and increases levels of dopamine (neurotransmitter associated with reward-motivated behavior) and serotonin (neurotransmitter contributing to the feelings of wellbeing and happiness), it is only natural that we experience deep state of calm and a heart open to love and joy.
Research has shown meditation slows down the heart rate, and decreases activity in the default mode network (DMN) – the brain network responsible for wandering thoughts. Thus, the absence of tiring thoughts and slower heart rate (combined with the multitude of other positive processes in the body that help re-align the entire system) induces a pleasant relaxation response. So, if you are feeling tense, stressed or overwhelmed, meditating for 5-10 minutes can do wonders. And if you feel worn out from decades of racing thoughts, anxiety and rumination, meditation has the power change your life.
3. Drastic Stress Reduction
During meditation, you focus your attention on your breath or mantra or music to clear your mind of intrusive thoughts that produce stress. With guided meditation, you are being led into another “stream” of thinking, following the prompts that feel good and positive affirmations that plant in your subconscious, later influencing all your responses. When you visualize positive outcomes in meditation, you induce your body into a state, as if that outcome had actually occurred. All of these methods eliminate stress response in the moment, and create a long-lasting effect that helps you continue your day stress-free.
4. Improved Emotional Intelligence and Regulation
When you meditate, you are able to get deeply in touch with yourself and your emotions, your needs and your desires. It becomes very clear why you react to certain events in your life the way you do. You might have a need that is not being met, and that puts your entire system into overdrive. Or you might be going against your heart’s desires out of feeling obligated, pressured or manipulated. In meditation, you are able to recognize these issues, accept them and fix what is necessary. This understanding leads to you being able to regulate your emotions better, as you now know where they are coming from and what you need to do about it.
5. Positive Mindset
Meditation has the power to really clean out your mind, just like cleaning a house. When you first sit down to meditate – especially if you are just starting out – all sorts of thoughts are coming to the surface. Is it bad? Does it mean that you are a bad meditator? No. The thoughts are coming up to be acknowledged and released. If you sit long enough (it only takes a couple of minutes) and witness your thoughts, just like you would passing clouds in the sky, you will see that they come and go, and eventually your mind runs out of thoughts to think. That is when your positive mind kicks in and starts producing life-affirming ideas, visions of what you want, what you enjoy. The more you bask in how that feels, the more your active mind will align, and subconsciously, you will start responding to life events with positive thoughts, rather than negative.
6. Boost in Creativity
This is one of the most exciting benefits of meditation, being reported by many new meditators around the world. When you clear your mind of wandering thoughts, the creativity flows. Your body relaxes, you accept the present moment as is, and there is nothing left to “figure out” but to be and enjoy being. Now, you start getting ideas rooted in joy that produce more joy. You “randomly” come up with creative ideas on how to solve the problems that have been weighing you down. You feel more and more desire to live, and less and less desire to think, let alone negative thoughts. This benefit alone is so worth trying out meditation.
7. Clear Mind
Just like we mentioned previously, meditation has a power to completely clear your mind. You are able to relax into your body, accept the present moment, release tensions, cry if needed, and let go. And the more you repeat this process, the clearer your mind will stay throughout the day.
8. Freedom From Rumination / Racing Thoughts
Meditation is very grounding. It helps us relax into our body, like a caring parent, stroking our head telling us “all is well, and all will be well.” If we allow all the thoughts to come up to the surface and not fight them – hear them out as we would a small child – we find that after the thoughts are done “expressing themselves” to us, they just leave. And the deep sense of calm sets in. Again, the more we repeat it, the longer the effect will last into your “post-meditation” life.
9. Improved Quality of Sleep
When rumination ends and we relax into our life, we allow ourselves to deeply let go. That is exactly what needs to happen for us to fall into deep sleep. Moreover, meditation helps us produce more melatonin – hormone responsible for sleep regulation. In 1995, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center found that women who meditated had significantly higher levels of melatonin compared to women who did not. Another study found that levels of melatonin in patients who meditated before bedtime were increased for that night, but did not increase the night patients did not meditate, suggesting that a regular practice is necessary.
10. Reduced Anxiety
There are many physiological processes that go into reducing anxiety that we will examine in our next blog on the science of meditation. As we have discussed, when we free ourselves from fear-based thinking or negative thinking in meditation – simply by allowing these thoughts – we land in the space of positivity, thirst for life, joy, and creation. When we use visualization to create desired outcomes and “live through them” in meditation, we land in the space of “there is nothing to be anxious about,” as your body tends to believe your visualizations. During meditation you make your body live through the experience, making it feel as if it had already happened, instinctively, and your body will carry the sensation and the experience beyond your meditation pillow.
11. Enhanced Self-Awareness
When we meditate, we come closer and closer to our true selves. We get in touch with our feelings, desires, and emotional life happening deep inside of us. And the deeper we go, the more we let ourselves feel what comes up in meditation, the more we understand our feelings and desires, our responses to people and events. This understanding helps us own our choices, own our life fully, and take full responsibility for our life. From here, conscious and rapid healing begins.
12. Sharper Focus and Better Concentration
Breathing, one of the key elements of meditation and mindfulness practices, directly affects the levels of a natural chemical messenger in the brain called noradrenaline, which increases neuroplasticity, the ability of our brain to form new neural connections. Meditation helps our alpha wave (alert assertive state of mind) strengthen, and “the monkey mind” weaken, bringing us laser focus and complete calm. The more we practice meditation and focus on breathing or a mantra, the more we train our brain to focus, and just like a muscle, we improve the sharpness of the focus and the length of time we can keep it concentration.
13. Better Memory
Meditative state thickens the cerebral cortex, the main functions of which are learning, concentration and memory. When we meditate, we help our emotions flow freely and learn to let our brain “breathe life” into our heart. When that happens, our experiences are being integrated quickly as we do not ruminate. We are not trying to escape from ourselves and we accept life fully and focus easily. We are able to notice way more details and retain them as an important part of the experience.
14. Enhanced Kindness & Compassion
With meditation, we learn to accept ourselves and our feelings fully. When that happens, we naturally accept others and their feelings fully as well. From here, we are able to be more compassionate, more understanding to others, and, as a result, more kind.
15. Improved Chronic Pain Management
Research shows that pain intensity ratings during meditation when compared with non-meditation reduce by approximately 40 percent. This significant reduction has to do with meditation activating and reinforcing some areas of the brain used in pain processing. It helps to reduce pain intensity in patients, improving their sleep and overall quality of life.
16. Increased Levels of Energy
This is also one of the most common benefits reported by new and seasoned meditators alike. People who start meditating notice a significant increase in their overall levels of energy and vitality within days of starting their meditation practice. This effect alone does wonders for mental health, baseline mindset and attitude towards life.