If you’re stressed or anxious and looking for a way to calm yourself, meditation may be the key. Read on to learn about the benefits of meditation. Then, relax and calm your mind with our five-minute meditative practice from Tina Walter, certified oncology yoga therapist at The Christ Hospital.
What it means to meditate – and how it can help you
Meditation has a few definitions – from general deep thought to religious or spiritual reflection to quiet focus on the breath or a mantra. And techniques vary. But don’t get bogged down by the details. What matters is that the benefits of meditation are real.
Several research studies have shown the practice can improve our mental and physical health:
- For anxiety. One recent experiment on a group of nursing students found that mindfulness meditation (the meditation technique that teaches you to relax and quiet your thoughts by focusing on the present) significantly reduces the type of anxiety that comes from having an anxious personality, called trait anxiety.
- For stress. According to two studies published in April this year, meditation combined with exercise (also called mental and physical training, or MAP training) reduces stress and can improve mental health and depression. Additional studies have also concluded that reducing stress through meditation can also improve chronic inflammation and help you maintain a healthy gut.
- For high blood pressure. Several studies have shown that Buddhist meditation (meditation as practiced in Buddhism) can improve blood pressure and vascular function by reducing inflammation in the arteries, increasing nitric oxide concentration and improving vascular endothelial cell function.
- For altruism. In addition to its mental and physical health benefits, meditation can also improve social behavior, specifically altruism (selflessness). In one study, the participants who were asked to meditate were nearly three times as likely to donate to charity after their practice than the participants who didn’t meditate.
- For cognition. Researchers have used fMRI to show how meditation impacts brain activity. Though the effects aren’t totally understood yet, the images clearly show our brains change when we meditate. Neural plasticity (the brain’s ability to change to experiences) is affected, and the parts of the brain that are involved in thinking and emotion are activated.
How to meditate
Anyone can meditate at anytime and anywhere, and it costs nothing. The only thing that all meditative practices require is that you sit still and focus as best as you can – don’t seek perfection.
Closing your eyes may help you focus better. Taking slow, steady breaths will also help you focus and bring a sense of calm.
Before you start a regular meditation practice, consider these tips from Tara Brach, PhD, psychologist and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, D.C.:
- Set your intention. Begin by thinking about what matters to you and why you meditate.
- Set your posture. Alertness and erectness are essential. Do both while also letting go of tension.
- Set a time and space. Start with short sits at the same time every day. Clear a quiet space where you can go without distractions.
- Practice, practice, practice. Meditating becomes second nature when done regularly.
You may also find it beneficial to say a few of the following phrases at the beginning, middle or end of your meditation, taking the time to feel the experience they create:
May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I feel safe from harm.
May I accept myself just as I am.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
May I be happy.