Healthcare can be pricey, but what if we told you that one of the best ways to improve your health is totally free?
We’re talking about meditation, which is one of the simplest science-backed ways to improve your health. This is something nearly everyone can do in as little as a minute a day, and it can help you feel better almost immediately.
Whether you take a mindful moment in the shower or while sweeping your floors, it’s a great way to tune into your thoughts, build self-awareness, and destress on a chaotic or difficult day.
Interested in learning more about this effective tool? Read on.
What exactly is meditation?
You might have heard that meditation is about “clearing your mind.” Many people believe that they need to empty their head of thoughts in order to meditate – and because this is pretty much impossible, they get frustrated and give up.
The truth is that meditation isn’t about clearing your head of thoughts – it’s about paying attention to the thoughts you do have.
Imagine that you’re standing at a busy train station. Every train is a thought. It’s tempting to climb onto the train – follow the thought – or feel overwhelmed by the sights and sounds. It’s also tempting to wonder where the trains are going, feel anxious about your destination, or worry about the trains other people are getting onto.
Meditation is about simply watching the trains go by. You don’t need to board any trains, reach any destinations, or go anywhere. You are simply observing those thoughts. Some describe meditation as turning your attention inwards – in other words, being aware of the thoughts that are floating through your mind.
You’ve probably been in a meditative state of mind before while walking, peeling potatoes, or washing dishes. This is, generally speaking, called “mindfulness.” It could also be described as getting “in the zone” or “tuning into your thoughts.”
What meditation is NOT
There are many myths about meditation that put people off practicing. Many people think of meditation as something ultra-spiritual that involves sitting cross-legged and saying “ohm.” And while this meditation practice is common, you don’t have to do this in order to reap the benefits.
Meditation does not have to involve:
- Closing your eyes
- Taking expensive courses
- Using complicated apps
Meditation looks different to different people: that’s the beauty of it. The good news is that you can practice in a way that feels best to you. If you’re religious and would like to combine meditation with prayer, go for it! If you’d like to use a meditation app, go for it! But if you don’t, that’s totally okay too.
Why is meditation important?
Meditation is most commonly used to manage stress. Stress reduction is crucial for good health. Not only does it feel awful at the time, but it can actually lead to long-term health conditions. For example, when left unchecked, overwhelming stress can lead to depression and anxiety disorders.
Stress also elevates your cortisol levels. While this is fine and normal, if your cortisol levels are elevated for long periods of time, it can directly affect your health. High cortisol levels make your body produce more cytokines, which are chemicals that cause inflammation.
Stress can lead to:
So, managing stress is one of the best ways to protect both your mental and physical health. Of course, stress is inevitable: we can’t avoid it, nor should we! But learning to cope with stress in a healthy way can keep those cortisol levels regulated. Effective stress management can improve your quality of life, keeping you both happy and healthy.
What does scientific research say about meditation?
Although meditation might seem a bit “out there,” a lot of scientific research has been conducted on meditation. And believe it or not, it works.
First, meditation does actually reduce stress, according to one review that looked at studies involving over 3500 people.
Second, meditation seems to help those with diagnosed mental illnesses. The above-mentioned review concluded that meditation can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Another review found that transcendental meditation (TM), a specific form of meditation, reduced the symptoms of anxiety significantly. It also seems to help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to another review.
And your physical health can benefit from meditation, too. Meditation can reduce inflammation, according to one study that involved an eight-week meditation program. This makes sense, because we know stress increases cortisol, which increases inflammation.
Studies have revealed that meditation might help those with stress-related diseases such as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and insomnia. And, interestingly, it seems to reduce blood pressure in those with high blood pressure – a health condition that can cause a range of life-threatening issues.
And if you struggle with chronic pain, meditation might be helpful for that, too.
In fact, there’s so much scientific evidence for the benefits of meditation that there are too many to list there.
What’s the easiest way to meditate?
Much like exercise, meditation is best done consistently. Building a habit and doing it every day seems to be beneficial, according to the studies mentioned above.
One way to build a meditation habit? Do it for one minute a day. No – really.
Many of us are intimidated by the idea of sitting down for ten minutes to meditate. You might worry that you can’t sit still for so long, or you might have a chock-full schedule that makes it hard to get ten minutes to yourself. The good news is that you don’t need to meditate for long for it to be effective.
In Dan Harris’s book “Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics,” he suggests beginners start meditating for 60 seconds at a time. Pretty much everyone has 60 seconds of alone-time a day, even if it’s just when you’re in the shower or just before you get out of bed.
What can 60 seconds of meditation do?
As Harris explained in an interview with NPR, this minute of self-awareness will help you realize how disorganized your thoughts are. You will probably notice how wild and ceaseless your thoughts are. “We are having this nonstop conversation with ourselves about which most of us are unaware. But when you tune into it, you see how negative, repetitive, ceaselessly self-referential it is,” he explained.
This helps us learn not to believe that non-stop voice inside our head, the one that can be negative, cruel, or self-destructive. Instead of obeying that voice that says, “You should stay in bed today instead of getting in your daily walk,” you can recognize it for what it is: just a thought.
And what’s more is that 60 seconds of meditation a day helps you build a habit. Once you’re used to one minute of meditation, you can do two, three, five, ten – as much as you want – because you’ll realize how valuable and easy it can be.
There are other easy ways to meditate:
- Use a guided meditation on YouTube.
- Meditate while taking a walk: focus on putting one foot in front of the other, even if it’s just up and down your house.
- Try mindful eating. Turn your attention to the sights, smells, and tastes of a cup of tea or block of chocolate.
- Do mindful movement, like through a regular yoga practice.
- Focus on the feeling of your breath.
- Repeat a mantra that feels good to you.
Feel free to experiment with different meditation styles until you find something you enjoy. The more fun it is, the easier it is to stick to, but challenging yourself can be helpful, too. Alternatively, you can keep switching your meditation practice up to keep things interesting!
Meditating during difficult times
Saying you’re too busy to meditate is like saying you’re too hungry to eat or too tired to sleep: when it feels impossible, it’s a sign that you really need to do it. Meditation is most helpful to us in times of busyness and stress, so try to carve out a minute or two to tune into your thoughts.
You can meditate while:
- Sitting in traffic
- Lying in bed
- Commuting on public transportation
- Brushing your teeth
Remember, you don’t need to close your eyes to do it. Just give yourself a moment to listen to your internal world.
Here at Knew Health, we know the value of tools like meditation. We provide wellness resources like meditation for our members, in addition to our other Member Services.
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