It seems that the benefits of meditation are becoming increasingly well-known and science has now caught up with ancient wisdom to provide resounding evidence that meditation profoundly affects every aspect of our lives, bodies and minds.
Among a host of other benefits, studies show that meditation can decrease stress, increase focus and performance, and even provide relief for chronic pain and illness. One study conducted by The National Institute of Health showed a 23% decrease in mortality in people who meditated compared to those who did not. Specifically, meditation can increase levels of antibodies, improve immune system function, lower pain intensity, reduce levels of anxiety and regulate blood pressure.
Meditation literally changes us at a genetic level too. According to the Harvard Medical Institute, the state of calm produced by meditation actually switches on genes related to augmenting our immune system, thus reducing inflammation and fighting a range of medical conditions. It also physically changes our brains and has a variety of proven neurological benefits. For instance, one study by UCLA found that meditation can increase the thickness of the pre-frontal cortex region of our brain and slow the thinning which naturally occurs as we get older, impacting our cognitive functioning. Meditation changes our brain, our body, and the way in which we experience the world.
When you consider all the benefits of meditation, with more are being found every day, it seems crazy not to at least give it a go. However, the fact remains that meditation isn’t easy, especially for those of us who struggle to turn off the mental chatter and the buzz of our thoughts. The practice of meditation has been a goal of mine for some time now, and I can say that it has taken time and perseverance to make it a habit, but its effects are fantastic, rather additive in fact. It is undoubtedly one of the best and easiest ways you can become healthier, happier and more balanced. If the idea of meditating feels uncomfortable to you or even a bit wacky, that's okay, exploring unknown territory is usually met by some resistance, but meditation is a gift you can give yourself and incorporate in to your daily life.
You may be wondering, what is meditation exactly? Basically, the term "meditation" can refer to any process that leads you to an inner state of relaxed awareness. There needn't be any big mystery or drama about the process itself, and there's really no right or wrong way to do it. There are simply different techniques that can be used as tools to help you focus and quieten your mind, and discover an ever-present source of inner peace and strength that can help you navigate your life from a calm and grounded place. Regular meditation is a means of transforming your mind by developing concentration, clarity, emotional positivity and calm. It isn’t about letting your thoughts wander or about trying to empty your mind; it is about paying attention to the present moment- your thoughts, emotions and sensations - and encourage your body to release chemicals and brain signals that make your muscles and organs slow down and increase blood flow to the brain. Surely one of the most valuable things you can do in life is to spend some time every day quieting your mind in order to create inner peace and better health.
There are many methods to elicit deep relaxation, so if meditation really isn’t for you, then find something that is - you could try acupuncture, massage, breathing techniques, prayer, tai chi or yoga. What matters is to find a way to recharge and renew yourself, and awaken your mind to the experiences around you by removing yourself from everyday thought. For those sceptics among you who think that you don’t have time to meditate amid your plethora of work and family commitments, ask yourself at what point you decided there is a trade-off between productivity and taking care of yourself? Far from it! Through better health, focus and clarity, it’s hard to believe that you won’t easily make up those 10 or 20 minutes of the day that you dedicated to meditation, and be far happier and balanced as a result. Go on, give it a try and let me know how you get on!