Meditation is the simplest and most natural method to reduce stress and improve self-confidence. It has been practiced in the eastern part of the world for centuries as a stress management strategy that also helps to alter consciousness, attain peace and develop better cognitive skills.
Tension and anxiety are the unwanted baggage in our busy, ever-demanding lifestyle leading to more people feeling depressed, inadequate, under confident and developing major inferiority complexes. Meditation is being embraced by people worldwide as a method of attaining mental peace and discipline in their lives. Although there is no particular correct or incorrect method, it is important to find a practice that is agreeable with you.
“Meditation is what feels comfortable and what you feel encouraged to practice”Mira Dessy (meditation author)
In this article we shall try and understand what the process actually is and what are the ways meditations benefits our body, mind and soul.
Table of Contents: 1. What is Meditation? 2. What are the Types of Meditation? 3. What are the Common Elements of Meditation? 4. Benefits of Meditation 5. What are the Benefits of Daily Meditation?
What is Meditation?
Meditation is simply a set of processes that result in a heightened state of awareness, increased alertness and more focussed attention. Routine practice is said to have a wide number of benefits on psychological wellbeing of a person.
It has been practiced traditionally in various religion including Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity as a type of mind body complementary medicine. Although most religions use it as a spiritual process; it is independently practiced by many people as a psychotherapeutic technique in order to cope with stress and be happy.
Nowadays, yoga and meditation are practiced simultaneously by some people as stress management strategies.
What are the Types of Meditation?
The word acts as an umbrella term for various practices to attain a relaxed state of mind. There are different subtypes within each type of meditation and instructors often advice to blend them in order to discover the one practice that is unique to your needs.
Underlying is five of the most recommended types of meditative practices:
1. Metta Meditation
This is popularly known as loving kindness meditation and is designed to promote a feeling of love and compassion for both self and others.
It is recommended to those people who are affected by anger, frustration and interpersonal conflicts.
It has been shown to benefit people suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.
2. Progressive Relaxation
Also called as “body scan meditation”; this technique encourages people to scan their bodies for areas of tension and allow their release.
It has been shown to help attain a generalised sense of calmness and might also help in chronic pain.
Some people also use this as a method to fall asleep when they are insomniac.
3. Mindfulness Meditation
This is one of the most practiced techniques that urges people to stay aware and focused on the present.
It encourages practitioners to let go of past conflict or stop dreading the future and concentrate on the present reality.
Mindfulness is a common theme in all kinds of meditation (mantra meditation, spiritual meditation, breath awareness meditation, zen meditation) and has been extensively studied by researchers for decades.
Some benefits of mindfulness meditation include improved focus, improved memory, less impulsive reactions, etc.
4. Breath Awareness Meditation
This is an extension of mindfulness meditation which encourages mindfulness breathing.
The goal is to focus on our breathing while letting go of all other thoughts that enter our mind.
The benefits of mindfulness meditation apply here as well- improved concentration, reduced anxiety, better emotional response, etc.
5. Yoga Asana
Actually meditation is a post yoga asana- a part of yoga. Meditation is done after yoga to attain stability of mind and body after the vibrations from yoga.
Benefits of yoga and meditation include – relief from chronic pains, attainment of intimacy with one’s emotions and sensations, stress relief, controlled lifestyle disorders, etc.
What are the Common Elements of Meditation?
Although different practices focus on different aspects, all the types have some common elements:
- A comfortable position
- A quiet serene environment
- Focused attention
- Relaxed breathing
- Open and patient attitude
What are the Benefits of Meditation?
Meditation is a process of habit and its popularity is rising as more and more people realise the positive effects it has on our health both physically and mentally. Here are a few of the best known benefits of meditation:
1. Stress Management Strategy
This is one of the most common reasons why people try meditation therapy. There are various theories on how meditation proves to be an effective way of coping with stress.
Stress induces the production of damaging hormones like cortisol that release inflammatory mediators like cytokines. These cytokines are responsible for increased blood pressure, anxiety, depression, disrupted sleep cycle and various other manifestations of stress disorder.
Mindfulness meditation has been proven to reduce the production of these harmful chemicals and also improve stress related conditions such as IBS- irritable bowel syndrome.
2. Reduced Tension and Anxiety
Meditation helps to decrease symptoms of stress, hence reduce symptoms of generalised anxiety disorders as well.
A study including about 50 people with chronic pain has shown that a complete 8 weeks of meditation therapy increases positive self-assessment, increases confidence, reduces depression and pain symptoms.
Yoga has increased a sense of generalised wellbeing, probably due to the combined effect of meditative practices and physical activity.
3. Improved Emotional Flexibility
Since mindfulness meditations help reduce anxiety, it leads to improved self-image, improved self-confidence and a more positive outlook on life.
There is scientific evidence to the fact that people practicing yoga and meditation are happier and lead a more fulfilled life.
Such people have fewer negative thoughts and are less likely to fixate on grudges.
4. Increased Self Confidence
Meditation helps you to develop a strong bond with yourself, understand your own emotions, thoughts, expectations, abilities and mature into the best form of yourself.
Some studies have suggested that practicing tai chi (a form of meditation in motion) can improve self-efficacy i.e. improve self-confidence and have faith in one’s own abilities.
Benefits of meditation include a decreased feeling of loneliness, self-pity and a more compact but stronger social group.
5. Enhanced Attention Span
In different religions, meditation as a form of exercise is encouraged in young children due to its legendary effects on memory and attention.
Meditation increases the duration of attention span, increases the strength of focus, improve accuracy and have better as well as faster problem solving abilities.
Studies have suggested that one of the effects of meditation on brain was to reverse the pattern promoting mind warding and fickle mindedness; this leads to poor attention.
6. Decreased Age Related Memory Loss
Increased attention and alertness combined with clarity of thought helps to keep the mind exercising and might help to keep it young.
Studies have shown that kirtan kriya (a form of mantra meditation) improves the age related memory loss in older people and they perform better in neuropsychological tests.
One of the advantages of meditation in older people is that it has been shown to at least partially improve or decrease memory loss in patients with dementia.
7. Get Rid of Addictions
Meditation increases self-control and awareness of triggers leading to addictive behaviours.
Meditation can be a very effective way to redirect thoughts, manage emotions and control impulses related to addictions. It has also been effective in reducing binge eating.
A study has shown that practicing transcendental meditation reduced psychological distress, alcohol cravings and manages alcohol withdrawal symptoms to some extent in patients undergoing alcohol addiction treatment.
8. Improved and More Productive Sleep
Insomnia is often caused by gripping anxiety, racing thoughts and fear of the future. All these are reduced by regular meditative practices.
Mindfulness meditation has been proven to increase REM sleep by releasing tension points and increasing the duration of sleep due to induced calmness.
Better sleep eventually leads to better performance and more productivity the next day.
9. Reduced Pain
Pain perception is under the control of our brain and there is a heightened response in stressful conditions. Hence, the mind can be trained to react in a certain way with practice.
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce pain and improve the overall quality of life by decreasing the symptoms of depression that are often seen in people suffering from chronic pain.
Both meditation practitioners and non-practitioners suffer from the same cause of pain; however, the former show a greater ability to cope with the pain and sometimes even experience less sensation.
10. Reduce Blood Pressure
Raised blood pressure leads to several complications in life such as atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction (acute heart attack), etc.
Meditation helps to reduce blood pressure by relaxing the nerves mediating stress signals and hence reducing the strain on heart.
11. Generate a Sense of Compassion
Metta meditation, better known as loving – kindness meditation can increase positive feelings in a person.
These benefits of meditation are seen to be dose dependent; i.e. the more you meditate, the more love you generate.
It has shown to improve positive thoughts, interpersonal relations, anger management and extend kindness and forgiveness.
12. Manage Symptoms of Some Certain Conditions
Meditation can help to improve illnesses that are worsened by stress.
Although more research is still required to establish the direct health benefits of meditation, some researchers suggest that it might help to manage symptoms of certain medical conditions like- asthma, heart problems, tension headaches, high blood pressure, etc.
Meditation cannot work as a replacement for traditional medical treatment, but there is strong evidence suggesting its benefits as an add-on option.
What are the Benefits of Daily Meditation?
Meditation is a practice of habit. It cannot work effectively unless practiced regularly. Even 10 minutes of daily meditation is beneficial to the practitioner rather than doing different times haphazardly. Meditation is like a skill; the more you practice the better your results are.
Although there are many proven scientific benefits of meditation; we need to remember that it is not a panacea. The only way you can derive maximum benefits is through consistency, i.e., regular practice. Initially, it might take a little cut and try to discover the best technique for you; but the long-term benefits are worth toiling for. It is important that meditation does not become a burden in your life; you should not look it up as a chore. To improve mental health conditions via meditation, we need to implement the practice in a gentle and consistent manner into our day-to-day routine until it becomes sustaining and enjoyable.