Following The Good Times’ recent post on the benefits of laughing, did you know that you can get the same benefits and more from meditating?
More likely than not, when you hear the word meditation – or in today’s more modern lingo, mindfulness – you picture someone sitting on the ground with their legs crossed, saying “ommmmmm” over and over again, with maybe some goats in the background and bells ringing on a Tibetan plateau while prayer flags flap in the wind.
Types of meditation
Just as there are many colors on a prayer flag, there are many ways to meditate, ranging from a simple one-minute check-in to week-long retreats where participants only take breaks to eat and sleep. Examples include:
- Body scan
- Focused attention meditation
- Guided visualization
- Loving-kindness meditation
- Mantra meditation (the type where meditators chant “ommmmm”)
- Mindfulness meditation
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Transcendental meditation
- Walking meditation
- Zen meditation
Meditation, at its foundation, requires nothing more than a quiet space, a comfortable posture, and the willingness to try to focus your attention on a specific thing, such as breathing. You need not worry about succeeding the first time or any time, for the whole of your practice or even just for bits of it. The benefits stem from the effort itself, not some preconceived idea of success.
And just as there are different types of meditation, there are also different reasons to meditate:
- It helps to reduce stress.
- It helps manage anxiety.
- It lowers blood pressure.
- It can help control pain, especially chronic pain.
- It improves focus and attention.
- It strengthens memory.
- It improves self-image.
- It enhances self-awareness.
- It improves sleep.
What the experts say
According to “How Meditation Changes the Brain” by Psych Central:
“A 2013 study found that a 2-week training course in mindfulness meditation improved attention and concentration and decreased mind wandering.” The use of mindfulness meditation helped improve test scores on reading comprehension, decreased distracting thoughts and improved memory. Although a subjective measure, students reported recalling information more quickly and feeling less distracted.
According to a June 2022 article by Kristen Rogers at CNN.com, meditating can even change the structure of the brain:
“Practicing mindfulness has been found to influence two stress pathways in the brain, altering brain structure and activity in regions that regulate attention and emotion, according to the American Psychological Association.”
The Psych Central article notes another study in the Journal of Neuroscience that “compared the brain scans of a group of people who meditated to those who did not. The researchers found that those who meditated showed more stability in their ventral posteromedial cortex – the region of the brain linked to spontaneous thoughts and mind wandering.” This shows an increased ability to focus.
And a 2015 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that meditation could preserve the brain’s gray matter, which controls how fast a person processes information. Although the people studied all lost gray matter due to aging, there was less of a decline for those who meditated.
The CNN article also reports that, “People who practice mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy – which include meditation – have been less likely to have negative thoughts or unhelpful emotional reactions when facing stressful situations, according to a 2015 review.”
“In addition to any structural changes in the brain, these benefits could be the result of physical processes, too. Meditation can help regulate the autonomic nervous system, the part of our nervous system that’s responsible for regulating involuntary physiological functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion.”
Time to get yourself some of these great benefits?
So while a practice that has been around for centuries may sound like it belongs to the frumpy, granola-eating, sandal-wearing crowd, it is actually a powerful tool that can help anyone train their mind to focus and redirect their thoughts to something that is beneficial, mentally and physically.
And that is good news, indeed!