Benefits of Meditation
How a few minutes of mindfulness a day can impact your mental and physical health
In our busy modern lives we are constantly thinking. From the minute we wake up to the minute we go to sleep our thoughts are racing. It can be difficult to slow down and actually sort through our thoughts. This brain overload can lead to several negative consequences such as irritability, stress, and even depression. Our bodies did not evolve to work eight hours a day, five days a week, all the while worrying about when our next pay check is, how much student debt we owe, and how much sleep we’re getting at night. Daily life can quickly turn into a never-ending hamster wheel of routine and stress. That’s why it is so important to dedicate a few minutes every day to maintaining your mental heath, and meditation is a great way to do that.
Mindfulness meditation works by allowing you time to reflect on your own thoughts instead of reacting to them. Look at it this way, it’s kind of like taking a small step back from your mind, and allowing yourself to observe your own thought process from an outside prospective, like seeing yourself in a mirror. When we reflect on ourselves and on our thoughts and emotions, we develop the habit of stopping to think before we react to quickly to things. Obviously, we cannot literally put our brains on pause. After all, the brain is the busiest organ in our body, regulating our entire nervous system and controlling our breathing, heartbeat, and many other things without us even thinking about it. But what we can do is give our brains a break by slowing down and temporarily tuning out that little ‘thinking’ voice in our heads.
“Numerous cognitive neuroscientists have conducted studies that have revealed that only 5% of our cognitive activities (decisions, emotions, actions, behaviour) is conscious whereas the remaining 95% is generated in a non-conscious manner.”
– Marc, www.simplifyinginterfaces.com
If we are always overloading that 5% of our conscious mind, then we are impeding the 95% of our unconscious mind from doing what it needs to do. That explains why we are more susceptible to physical illness when we are stressed. When out minds don’t get a chance to decompress every now and then, our brains get overworked and our physical health starts to decline too. Even a short, ten minute session of meditation can break up our daily routine just enough to allow our minds to reset. You’ve probably heard that you should take a short break once every hour to stretch, walk around, and give your eyes a break form starring at a computer screen. But it is just as important to rest your mind during the day.
Most people use to think of meditation as a religious or science fiction thing, but until you actually practise it, you won’t know the real benefits that come with it. There is no need for the legs-crossed-on-a-yoga-matt-with-your-fingers-together stereotype associated with meditation. And you don’t need to say “Ommmmm” or some ridiculous chant. All you need to do to practise mediation is to focus on your breathing to distract your mind from the thoughts racing through your head. There are many variations of breathing and counting techniques for people who are more advanced, but for someone who is new to meditation, it really is as simple as breathing in, breathing out, and focusing your attention on each and every breath. One of the easiest ways to maintain your focus is to count your breaths from one to ten and then repeat. Every time your mind drifts off and you get distracted, just bring your focus back to your breathing and start from one. Learning to control your attention and keep your focus on your breathing takes practise, but once you get into the habit of keeping that focus longer, meditation becomes nearly effortless.
There are several health benefits that come from daily meditation. The act of simply slowing down that hamster wheel for ten minutes a day can drastically relieve stress and anxiety. Think of your brain as a muscle. If you over use it without giving it a chance to rest and recover, you will inevitably end up with an injury, and if you keep exercising that muscle while it’s injured, the more damage you will do. In fact, not only does meditation reduce stress on the brain, it also prevents deterioration of your brain’s grey matter as you age. According to this study, neuroscientists found that lifelong meditators had better preserved brain matter as they aged than those who did not practice meditation. People who meditate also have a lower risk for Alzheimers, depression, and other cognitive disorders.
While mindfulness meditation is an easy and simple way to achieve these brain benefits, they can also be found in a range of other activities. Making art, learning an instrument, or playing sports are all healthy ways to allow your brain to recharge in a very similar way to mediation. Doing these things has the same function as meditation, it takes your mind away from that constant stream of thinking and gives it something else to focus on (just like your breathing). Different kinds of art therapies can actually be used to treat mental disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder. Activities like painting, writing poetry, or playing music can help individuals to process complicated emotions and allow their minds to heal from trauma. Meditation is kind of like the generic version of art therapy. Both methods work by helping the subject to remove themselves from that hamster wheel of thinking and take a step back to reflect.
Meditation is easy and only takes a few minutes per day. Whether you are stressed at work, want to prevent Alzheimers, or simply want to be more focused and relaxed, practicing mindfulness meditation is the perfect way to boost your overall mental and physical health. Just like getting exercise and eating right is healthy for your body, a few minutes of mindfulness every day is healthy for your brain and emotional intelligence. The benefits are definitely worth setting aside at least ten minutes a day. All you need to do is breath in… breath out… and repeat.