7 Benefits Of Meditation That Will Convince You To Try It

1122

Meditation is shrouded in mystery. Some people think you need a clear mind before you consider meditating. Others view meditation as a sort of religious practice for mystics. The truth is meditation has a long and storied history and yet can be as basic as sitting still and focusing on your breath.

"Meditation is about repetition and practice," says Ryan Gauthier, DAOM, RAc, LMT, a doctor of acupuncture and oriental medicine with Henry Ford’s Center for Integrative Medicine. "It's hard to study meditation because there are so many forms of the practice." But there's no doubt that meditation of all types has profound benefits.

What Are Some Perks Of Meditation?

For centuries, humans relied on anecdotal accounts for assurance that meditation is a useful pursuit. Now, we have scientific evidence — and detailed brain images — to show that daily meditation improves health and well-being.

"Google Scholar turns up almost 700,000 research documents on meditation, including imaging studies that show increased activity in brain regions associated with attention, memory and a reduced risk of disease," Dr. Gauthier says.

Among meditation's key benefits:

  1. Better focus: There's evidence to suggest that meditation may lengthen attention span by decreasing activity in the brain's default mode network (DMN). The DMN orchestrates worrying thoughts. When people learn to quiet a wandering mind, they're better equipped to focus on the task at hand.
  2. Better mood: Meditation may help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety to the same degree as antidepressant medications for some people. With meditation, you're actively training the mind to focus on what is, rather than on what was or what you hope will be. (Consult with your doctor before stopping any medications or with questions you have about antidepressant use.)
  3. Better sleep: Since meditation plays a key role in your ability to quiet your mind, it can improve sleep. It can also help you learn to relax your body and release tension, making it easier to fall asleep. "Being able to sleep impacts so many processes in the body," Dr. Gauthier says. "Plus, getting more and better sleep can help improve your emotional response to your daily activities."
  4. Greater control over addictions: Research suggests that people who learn how to meditate may be better equipped to kick destructive habits. In one study of smokers, those who learned mindfulness were significantly more likely to stop smoking by the end of the training (and beyond) than those who participated in conventional treatment.
  5. Improved cognition: Meditation may also buffer the aging brain. When researchers compared normal aging adults and same-age serious meditators, they found that the shrinking of the brain as you get older is not "normal." People who meditate regularly do not have shrinking brains.
  6. Less stress: Studies consistently show that meditation helps reduce the stress hormone cortisol. "The practice also helps reduce blood pressure and heart rate," Dr. Gauthier says. "Plus, research shows that the benefits persist even after you stop meditating."
  7. Reduced pain: Several studies confirm that people who meditate regularly experience less pain than those who don't meditate. In one study of 47 people with chronic pain, an 8-week meditation program improved pain, anxiety and depression over a one-year time period.

Mindfulness And Meditation

Meditation has aptly been called "thinking about not thinking." During this uninterrupted time (ideally 15 minutes or more daily), you calmly become aware of your thoughts and distance yourself from those thoughts.

How does meditation relate to mindfulness? It's complicated. "Meditation is a form of mindfulness. It's a way of connecting to your surroundings and being in the moment," Dr. Gauthier says. "You can be mindful doing activities like taking a shower, doing dishes, folding laundry. But you're also being mindful — and getting additional benefits — while you're meditating."

Both mindfulness and meditation are about bringing awareness to the present moment. It’s normal for your mind to wander. Maybe you notice an itch on your nose, or maybe you're thinking about what's for dinner. With mindfulness — and meditation — the goal is to detach from those distracting thoughts and bring your attention back to the present.

What To Know Before You Meditate

Meditation is simple and it's something that can benefit everyone. You can do it anywhere, any time and without any special equipment or memberships.

But meditation is not completely risk-free and it's not a magic bullet for suffering. For some people, probing the mind in this way can unearth pain, trauma and fear. "If you have an underlying trauma, it's best to meditate in a controlled environment or after meeting with a professional counselor," Dr. Gauthier says. For most people, meditation promotes better health and healing.

Not sure you have what it takes to meditate? Start small — with just 10 minutes each week. Instead of turning on your phone or going online, take a few minutes to quiet your mind. If you're struggling to settle in, consider one of the many free guided meditations available through apps like Headspace and Calm.

Want more advice from our wellness experts?
Subscribe today to receive weekly emails of our latest tips.

To find a doctor, psychologist or acupuncturist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936

Ryan Gauthier, D.A.O.M., R.A.c., L.M.T., specializes in acupuncture and oriental medicine, practicing at Henry Ford Medical Center – Novi, Henry Ford Medical Center – Cottage (in Grosse Pointe) and the Henry Ford QuickCare Clinic on Woodward in Detroit.

Categories: FeelWell