The wide and varied benefits to be enjoyed from the regular practice of meditation are awesome. I am always amazed at how something so simple can have such a profound and powerful balancing effect on a person’s mind, body and spirit. Here is a summary of the key benefits that regular daily practice can give us.
Meditation literally reduces stress by reversing the effects of the flight-or-fight response. This is the ancient instinct we all have to either run from perceived danger or take it on in battle. Intended as a short-term protection mechanism, fight or flight causes our body to speed up our heart rate, increase our blood sugar, suppress our immune system, reduce insulin production, pump out stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, and reduce the blood supply to our digestive organs. All of these reactions happen so that our body can focus on either running away as fast as it can – or staying to fight.
The good news is that modern living very rarely presents us with the sort of dangers that involve us having to physically fight or run. The bad news is that our minds are still hardwired to react in the same way to perceived threats, and constantly trigger the flight-or-fight response in reaction to everyday stresses such as traffic jams, disagreements with people, time pressures, deadlines etc. meaning we feel stressed a lot of the time.
Meditation practice has a direct effect on our stress reactions, making us calmer, more poised and less reactionary. Regular meditation practice dissipates accumulated stress and cultivates a state of restful alertness.
There are many compelling studies showing the power of meditation to relieve stress and promote inner calm. For example, a 2011 study published in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Journal found that full-time workers who spent a few hours each week practising mindfulness meditation reported a significant decrease in job stress, anxiety, and depressed mood.
Unmanaged stress can make us sick and accelerate the aging process. Many studies have found that chronic, prolonged stress can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, stomach ulcers, autoimmune diseases, anxiety, cancer, insomnia, chronic fatigue, obesity and depression.
A large body of research has established that regular meditation practice produces tangible benefits for mental and physical health, including:
- Decreased blood pressure and hypertension
- Lowered cholesterol levels
- Reduced production of “stress hormones,” including cortisol and adrenaline
- More efficient oxygen use by the body
- Increased production of the anti-aging hormone DHEA
- Improved immune function
- Decreased anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
Control Over Our Own Thoughts
Man has conquered space, Mount Everest and numerous other challenges; but how many of us can truly say that we have conquered our own minds? How often do you find yourself victim to your own negative thoughts? Do you sometimes wish you could find the ‘off’ switch when it comes to your mind?
During most of our waking life our minds are engaged in a continuous internal dialogue in which the meaning and emotional associations of one thought trigger the next. All day long we spin stories about our work, our health, our finances, our family, or that funny look the neighbour gave us. Often we’re not even conscious of the internal soundtrack unspooling in our mind and yet it is the greatest source of stress in our lives.
Although the mind is capable of creating life-affirming stories, it has what neuroscientists call a negativity bias; it has a tendency to pay more attention to negative experiences than to positive ones. This bias evolved as a survival instinct millions of years ago, as our ancestors had to focus much more on avoiding potential threats than on rewards. Those who survived to pass on their genes paid a lot of attention to danger. Their legacy is a brain that is primed to focus on negative experiences; one that has a tendency to get stuck in conditioned patterns of thinking, returning again and again to thoughts of anxiety, depression, and limitation.
Regular meditation practice has been shown to counteract the negativity bias, bring an unruly mind under control and bring a deep sense of peace and calm to the mind.
When we live in the mind it is easy to get distracted by small irritations. For example, maybe we find it intolerable to be kept waiting in a line, or a small misdemeanor of another person upsets us. The solution is not to avoid these minor problems, because they will keep appearing no matter how hard we may try. The only effective solution is to develop detachment and keep things in perspective.
A powerful benefit of meditation is that we are able to detach ourselves from these insignificant, yet irritating thoughts. This detachment is not indifference; it is just that we are able to maintain equanimity in the midst of life’s inevitable turbulence. We gain clarity, poise and a sense of perspective.
Happiness and Peace of Mind
Is there anybody who does not, in some way, seek happiness? Meditation takes us to the source of happiness, which is to be found in our own peace of mind.
The emotional effects of sitting quietly and going within are profound. The deep state of rest produced by meditation triggers the brain to release neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. Each of these naturally occurring brain chemicals has been linked to different aspects of happiness:
Dopamine plays a key role in the brain’s ability to experience pleasure, feel rewarded, and maintain focus.
Serotonin has a calming effect. It eases tension and helps us feel less stressed and more relaxed and focused. Low levels of this neurotransmitter have been linked to migraines, anxiety, bipolar disorder, apathy, and feelings of worthlessness, fatigue, and insomnia.
Oxytocin is a pleasure hormone. It creates feelings of calm, contentment, and security, while reducing fear and anxiety.
- Endorphins are most commonly known as the chemicals that create the exhilaration commonly labeled “the runner’s high.” These neurotransmitters play many roles related to wellbeing, including decreasing feelings of pain and reducing the side effects of stress.
If we have no peace of mind and are constantly attacked by negative thoughts, happiness remains elusive, no matter how successful we are on an outer plane. It is perhaps hard to imagine that happiness can occur from the simple act of being. However, if we can meditate with a still mind, we will discover an unexpected source of happiness within our own self. Meditation shows us that happiness is not dependent on outer circumstances, but on our inner attitude.
Be it work, sport or music, concentration is essential to fulfill our potential. In one-pointed concentration there is great power; our energy and focus do not get dissipated. When we have concentration we can do more in less time. Through meditation we gradually improve our powers of concentration; this focus can be used for both meditation, and also other activities that we engage in.
Many studies provide evidence for the value of meditation in improving the ability to stay focused in a world filled with increasing distractions and demands on our attention. For example, research conducted by the UCLA Mindful Awareness Center showed that teenagers and adults with ADHD who practiced various forms of meditation for just eight weeks improved their ability to concentrate on tasks, even when attempts were made to distract them.
Ability to Learn Better
As researchers have found, meditation can help us tap into our brain’s deepest potential to focus, learn and adapt. Neuroscientists have shown that the brain is constantly changing and growing throughout our lives. Meditation is a powerful tool for awakening new neural connections and even transforming regions of the brain.
A recent study led by Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital found that after only eight weeks of meditation, participants experienced beneficial growth in the brain areas associated with memory, learning, empathy, self-awareness, and stress regulation (the insula, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex). In addition, the meditators reported decreased feelings of anxiety and greater feelings of calm. This study adds to the expanding body of research about the brain’s amazing plasticity and ability to change habitual stress patterns.
Spontaneity and Creativity
When we live in the thinking mind, we are usually preoccupied with the past or future. When we spend our energy on the past and future we cover up our natural spontaneity and creativity. We may feel you have neither creativity nor spontaneity, but, if we can learn to still the mind, we realise that we have far more potential than we currently believe.
Meditation is a powerful practice for going beyond habitual, conditioned thought patterns into a state of expanded awareness. We connect to what is known as the field of infinite possibilities or pure potentiality, and we open to new insights, intuition, and ideas.
The world’s great innovators, athletes, and other high achievers have described this state as “being in the flow,” being in the right place at the right time. Time seems to stand still and instead of struggling and trying to force things to happen, everything you need comes naturally to you. You do less and accomplish more. You aren’t burdened by the past or worried about the future; you’re flowing in the ever-present eternal now. This higher state of consciousness is the birthplace of all creativity. The mind is in an open, receptive state and is able to receive flashes of insight and fresh perspectives.
Meditation helps us to live in the current moment, and thus can help us to unlock our creative potential.
Harmonious and Loving Relationships
When we’re feeling balanced and centred, it is much easier to respond with awareness rather than reacting in a knee-jerk way or saying something that creates toxicity in our relationships. Meditation cultivates equanimity and compassion, allowing us to be present with a loved one, client or co-worker and really listen to what they are saying and what they may need.
As we meditate on a regular basis, we develop what is known as “witnessing awareness” – the ability to calmly and objectively observe a situation, notice when we are being triggered, and consciously choose how we want to respond. The ability to be present and aware is extremely valuable in every relationship.
Discovering the Purpose of Life.
Are you totally satisfied with your current life? Are you perfectly content and happy? Or, do you sometimes feel empty inside? If, like me, you aspire to know more about the nature of existence and life, then meditation can be of great help. Usually we look for meaning in life through external events and other people. Meditation, however, shows us that we can gain a greater understanding of life through knowing who we truly are. In meditation we gain a new perspective of life, uncoloured by our own egotistic perspective. For those who wish it, meditation can become a lifelong process of answering the eternal question: “Who am I?”
Learn to Meditate
Learning meditation is simple and fun. If you are interested in finding out more and finding a style of meditation that fits in with your personality and your life then download my six-week home study course from the Products Page of this website.