Meditation is a process of driving your focus and attention to a state of self – awareness and inner calm. It includes techniques such as deep breathing, chanting of mantras, object focus or detachment from the thought process in order to promote a state of relaxation.
But, did you know meditation does not merely promote stress reduction and is associated with actual health benefits? Yes, that’s right; several researches have divulged that meditation has massive therapeutic benefits including pain management and an overall improvement of mental, cardiac and emotional health.
This article will float you through the wondrous benefits of meditation along with depicting its process. It will not just cover the general advantages of meditation, but, will focus on the particular benefits of each meditative technique so that you can select the one best suited to your health needs. Let’s begin the journey by understanding how meditation works.
The Vedic Science of Meditation
To truly understand meditation, we need to ponder on Vedic texts from ancient India, which divide the human body into three components, namely, the physical body, the inner faculty and the deep inner self or the pure consciousness. The process of meditation, fundamentally, shifts the focus from the physical body and other outer influences to the inner faculty or the mind, intellect and ego, from which, it gradually progresses to the perception of the innermost self. At this stage, we experience a true form of stress alleviation, relaxation and rejuvenation, which renders massive health benefits. So, let’s find out what these benefits are.
Benefits of Meditation
Meditation is associated with a myriad of health benefits due to its positive effects on mental and emotional health. It improves blood flow to the brain and enhances cognitive function as well as it improves the hormonal profile of the individual. Following are the benefits of meditation as gathered from the medical literature:
This is the most well – known benefit of meditation. But, if you thought that this is just a theoretical claim, you may need to think again.
Several researchers have shown that regular meditation leads to actual reduction in the levels of anxiety and depression. This is because it stabilises the levels of the cortisol hormone, which is primarily responsible for stress.
Along with this, it also enhances emotional control by building a positive outlook on life. So, it leaves you feeling more optimistic, anticipative and motivated towards your goals when practiced in the long – term.
Enhances Mental Health
Understandably, stress minimisation enhances mental health. But, is the benefit of meditation limited to that? Certainly not.
Meditation is associated with an improved memory, an increased efficiency and mental capability as well as higher levels of attention. It actually improves the EEG (electroencephalogram) coherence of your brain, which means that it is protective against various mental health conditions.
Randomised controlled trials of patients with epilepsy have evidenced that the practice of meditation results in significant reductions in the objective measures of stress. Further, it reduces the frequency of seizures and enhances their quality of life.
In patients with depression, it reduces the levels of inflammatory cytokines, which are responsible for depressive outcomes. Thus, meditation is a good technique for individuals with mental health conditions as well as children since it enhances attention span and improves overall focus and clarity.
Promotes Good Sleep
Another renowned benefit of meditation is its effects on sleep. Meditation helps to control the levels of melatonin, which is responsible for the regulation of sleep. It also stabilises the breathing pattern and thus eliminates any disturbances in the sleeping pattern.
In older adults, it has even shown to improve insomnia.
Since asthmatic patients often face exacerbations during sleep, the practice of meditation before sleeping can be of particular help to them.
Benefits for the Elderly
Along with managing insomnia, meditation is associated with the management of feelings of loneliness and social isolation / exclusion that are usually faced by older adults, especially those separated from their families.
Additionally, meditation modulates cardiovascular risk factors, enhances overall health and longevity, and is even associated with an improvement in the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
So, it has been recommended as a healthy habit among older adults, particularly those who are beginning to face memory deficits or are depicting signs of early dementia / Alzheimer’s.
Improves Cardiac Health
Meditation decreases the levels of total cholesterol, which inadvertently improves your cardiac health.
In a study of 201 subjects, it was found that meditation resulted in a 48 % decrease in heart attack and stroke along with reducing the risk of overall deaths. It was also associated with a drop in blood pressure levels and an improvement in the overall cardiac activity.
As a result, cardiac patients who meditate are seen to have an increased exercise tolerance and delayed fatigue, which, in turn, helps them in better managing their cardiac conditions.
Assists Weight Loss
Meditation reduces the overstimulation of the sympathetic system. It is shown to have a moderate weight loss effect, primarily due to stress elimination and an improvement in the overall levels of physical efficiency.
Since higher levels of cortisol are associated with weight gain and central obesity, the practice of meditation can possibly reverse these effects.
Further, meditation normalizes blood glucose levels, which prevents additional weight gain, visceral fat accumulation and diabetes.
Good for Skin Health
Deep breathing, as a technique of meditation, promotes tissue regeneration, muscle relaxation and enhanced blood flow to the muscles. This enhances the overall metabolic functioning of cells and tissues and the levels of advanced glycation end products (AGE), which are associated with an accelerated process of ageing are stabilized.
It is also believed that higher oxygen flow to your tissues and detoxification achieved through the practice of meditation imparts a natural glow to your skin.
This means that developing meditation as a daily practice can help in delaying the signs of skin ageing like the hints of fine lines and wrinkles while also giving you an unmatched glow. Now, isn’t that great?
Improves the Overall Quality of Life
Compassion, kindness, self – awareness, persistence, drive and benevolence are some of the exceptional traits that can be developed through meditative regimens.
It has been demonstrated that meditation reduces anger, laziness, procrastination and the desire for being better than others or the feelings of comparing oneself to peers and delusion because of an improved image of the self.
So, if you are struggling with self – doubts or find yourself caught with derailing thoughts quite often, meditation may just be the thing you need.
It is excellent for instilling a non – violent attitude as well as in stabilising mood disorders.
Meditation has also been found to be helpful in addictive subjects through the development of self – control and a higher will power. Through these effects, it promotes detoxification of the body eliminating free radicals and superoxides, which are associated with the risk of several chronic diseases.
May Prevent Cancer
By marginally reducing the levels of free radicals, meditation minimises overall oxidative stress levels of the body, which may have a cancer – protective effect. So, at an early stage of gene mutation, meditative techniques, in combination with an overall healthy lifestyle, may help in the prevention of cancer.
Studies in prostate cancer patients have demonstrated that the practice of meditation, most particularly, breathing techniques, improve gene regulation and expression. It down regulates disease – promoting genes, which are associated with the growth of cancer. At the same time, it promotes tissue regeneration to some extents. This leads to physical improvement in the symptoms of cancer as well as an overall psychological, social and cultural enhancement of these patients.
Further, meditation can be used to improve the quality of life of patients suffering from cancer since it helps in controlling pain, which is one of the most pronounced symptoms reported by cancer patients. It can even help to manage their emotional conflicts by building their overall belief and hope, which will support them through their cancer journey.
Other Benefits of Meditation
Meditation enhances cortical thickness and increases grey matter of the brain as demonstrated by preclinical studies. This means that it builds your decision making capabilities, improves retention power and promotes a greater emotional well – being.
Largely, meditation techniques have shown to improve post – menopausal symptoms and some autoimmune illnesses. It may also result in an overall reduction in flatulence, and, can be developed as a strategy in individuals who are faced with this health issue.
Being acquainted with the general benefits of meditation, we believe you are curious to know the process of meditation and understand the benefits associated with each of its different techniques. This section will introduce you to these meditative techniques.
Before starting, it must be pointed out that the duration of meditative practice is your own choice. The steps will be included hereafter; however, you can meditate as long as you feel comfortable.
If you feel dizziness, overwhelming or a general uneasiness, it is recommended to discontinue the practice and seek the advice of an expert professional before resuming.
Breathing meditation is a basic meditative technique, which involves getting clearance from the endless thoughts and anxieties; and tapping into a relaxed state with determined attention to your breath. It comprises the following three steps:
Sitting in a comfortable position
- You can sit with your legs crossed or relaxed, whichever way you feel comfortable. You can even use a pillow or cushion for additional support.
- Make sure that you are sitting in a quiet, undisturbed environment.
- Although, you can use some light music or mild scents during the process.
- Now, you simply have to inhale and exhale naturally.
Focusing on your breath
- While gradually inhaling and exhaling, try to observe your breathing pattern.
- Listen to your breathing sounds.
- Feel your breath as it moves through your belly, chest and exits through your nose. Pay attention to both your inhalation and exhalation.
Following your breath
- After a deep inhalation, try to develop a deeper focus on your breath.
- Feel your belly expanding and contracting as you inhale and exhale.
- Continue this until you reach a state of peace.
It is important to note that beginners may not immediately feel relaxation and may also not be able to dissociate entirely from their thoughts. The key is trying and slowly reaching that state of expertise.
Meditation is undoubtedly beneficial at any point of the day, but, morning meditation is most helpful since it helps in giving a right start to your day.
- Morning meditation generally follows a simple and flexible process.
- You just have to sit in a quiet, comfortable position with your eyes closed.
- You can either focus on your breathing pattern or can use chanting as a source of focus.
- You can also keep your eyes open and focus on a single object as you encounter in your vision.
The advantages of morning meditation are that it helps in building focus and the necessary positive energy required for you for gliding through the day. It also sets a calm tone of your day, which prevents you from rushing through things right in the morning. Morning meditation is a habit of the topmost successful persons for a reason after all.
Sleep Meditation and Deep Sleep Meditation
Opposite from the morning meditation, sleep meditation and deep sleep meditation are performed at the end of your day.
- Sleep meditation can also be performed flexibly depending on your personal preferences.
- Most people perform a mindful meditation before sleep, wherein, they reflect on different parts of their day right before bed, which helps them in gaining a deeper level of self – awareness and calm.
- Another easy technique of sleep meditation, which you must most certainly be aware of, is counting down. You can simply imagine yourself in a beautiful landscape or focusing on a single object while you begin to count down from 20 or 10.
- If you are not a fan of these techniques, you can stick to the same ol’ breathing meditation described above right before your bed time, and gradually transition to calmness and then sleep.
As the name implies, they help you in having a better sleep. It is not just a claim; deep sleep meditation has actually proven to fight with symptoms of insomnia and other types of sleep disorders. It is also a helpful practice for individuals with restless sleep patterns, those with a disturbed circadian rhythm and sleep walkers.
Vipassana is one of the most ancient techniques of meditation that has been originated in India.
- Unlike morning meditation and sleep meditation, Vipassana meditation has a specific technique, which needs to be exactly followed by the meditator.
- It makes the use of mindfulness and calmness techniques developed through breathing practices.
- It combines these with the practice of contemplation techniques that focus on the transient nature of life and bodily and mental changes.
- A higher level of thinking, reflection and introspection is required for its fulfilment.
- This technique takes years and months to develop, and it builds a sense of giving up worldly thoughts and desires. So, it must only be practiced by experienced professionals who can handle the enormity of its effects. The exact procedure of performing Vipassana meditation is thereby best instructed by a trained professional.
Vipassana meditation is used to obtain thorough insight into the reality of thought processes as well as morality. Some of its benefits are that it helps to investigate into personal attributes and qualities, which you can use to build your personal strengths. It also helps to develop a higher degree of consciousness and perception through the act of self – analysis and inquisition.
Buddhist meditation involves the practice of mindfulness and meditation following the routes of meditative insights offered by Siddhartha Gautama. It includes different methods, which are taught by different meditative schools across the world.
Here we include the procedure for performing Shamatha, which is the most well – known Budhist meditative practice focused at mindfulness:
- First of all, you need to sit in a comfortable position.
- You can sit with your legs crossed or can follow a Buddhist meditation posture if possible.
- Now, like, the basic breathing meditation, you need to observe your breaths while focusing on your cycles of inhalation and exhalation.
- Difference here is that while doing so, you also need to acknowledge your thought process.
- Keep observing your thoughts without indulging in them as they come and go.
- If you are facing issues in doing that as a beginner, you can use Buddhist guided meditations; plenty of them are available online.
Buddhist meditation has been existent since the 6th century, so, you can only imagine its marvels. The benefits of Buddhist meditation are that it instils a sense of happiness and positivity, which helps in leading a wholesome life. It helps to achieve a constructivist approach towards problems and an overall optimistic vision. Buddhist meditation is also renowned for causing spiritual awakening because of a deeper knowledge of self.
Yoga meditation refers to the combination of yogic postures with meditative techniques for building a greater focus on self. It involves the analysis of body movements along with focusing on the awareness of breath, changes in poses and feelings of the inner self.
- For practicing yoga meditation, you need to assume a standing posture with your legs widely spaced and your hands on the side.
- Now, gradually elevate your hand above the head and bend towards your side like this figure.
- Keep your focus on the position of your spine in this posture.
- Next, you need to transition to the second pose, which requires you to stretch your hands and extend them above your head.
- Then, slowly, try to balance on one leg like shown below.
- You can follow other yogic postures as it suits you.
- Try to lengthen every posture by visualising that you advancing to form space between your vertebrae.
- While transitioning, focus on your gradual movements and the released physical sensations.
- You also need to pay attention to your breath and the relation of your body with the ground or earth.
The benefit of yoga meditation is that it improves focus, balance and efficiency. It leads to the generation of a balanced energy, which results in a blissful release of stress. It is an excellent technique for persons who want to build their flexibility without performing too complex yogic postures, and for those who seek to lose weight through meditative practice.
Mantra meditation involves the repeated chanting of a phrase, word or syllable as a part of mindfulness and meditation. It has Buddhist and Hindu routes and generally involves the recitation of spiritual words like ‘Om’. However, these days, the practice of secular mantras is also gaining popularity.
- For practicing mantra meditation, you first need to identify suitable mantras that appeal to you.
- Now, you need to understand your intent and purpose towards the technique. Are you using it to manage stress? Or overcome distractions? Or for a spiritual connection?
- Now, sit comfortably and begin chanting your mantra while remembering your intent so that you achieve the desired goal.
- You also need to focus on your breathing pattern while doing so.
- Remember that you don’t have to worry about the sound of transcendence of your mantras. Simply be yourself and try to be present in the moment. That’s sufficient.
Mantra meditation is a great technique for individuals who feel distracted by other thoughts and emotions while meditating. Some of the benefits of mantra meditation are that it helps in managing fears and issues like insomnia and unwelcomed phobias. Chanting increases focus and pulls the person towards the present moment thereby alleviating stress and fear of the future. Then, obviously, it helps in developing a greater connection with the spiritual self as well as the divine energy.
Another age – old Buddhist meditation technique, Zen meditation was developed in the 7th century in China. It is a derivative of the word ‘dhyana’, which basically means concentration.
- Zen meditation involves three techniques, which are, observation of breath, quiet awareness and intensive group meditation.
- Observation of breath is similar to other techniques which require focusing on your breath.
- Quiet awareness involves observation of thoughts without any judgment or reason while sitting in silence.
- Group meditations is a novel practice, which has dedicated 30 to 45 minutes sessions performed in groups a meditation centre or a temple being alternated with other activities like walking, eating or working.
The benefits of Zen meditation certainly include improvement of focus and concentration as implied from the roots of its name. It helps meditators to delve deeper into their issues and life circumstances rather than simply minimizing stress. It builds the practice of intuition by pointing out the heart – mind connection. So, it can be helpful in answering some of your qualms about the self.
Meditation for Anxiety
Throughout this article, you must have abundantly learnt that meditation manages stress and anxiety. Now, while all types of meditation offer this benefit, is there a specific technique that can be of particular help? Let us tell you what the research says.
According to the results of clinical trials which compared several meditative techniques, mantra meditation has been the most successful in managing anxiety and other mental health issues like depression.
While mantra meditation may be the best, simple meditative techniques like breathing meditation have also been found to be helpful in stress and anxiety release. So, don’t shun away from practicing whatever you are comfortable with / acquainted to.