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Meditation and its effects on physical and mental health

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Meditation and its effects on physical and mental health

Meditation has been around for a really long time. It’s popularity has increased a lot in the past years due to more people finding out about the benefits of the practice. Meditation connects the mind and the body; it brings upon mental and physical peace. It is done by focusing ones attention on a specific sound, object, mantra, or breath then letting their thoughts and feelings come and go without any judgement. The practice of meditation is used by many to reduce stress or increase concentration, but that’s not the only benefit that comes with meditation. One can receive both mental and physical benefits if they practice meditation regularly. In this article I will be talking about the types and many benefits that come with meditation.

Types of meditation

Concentration meditation: This teaches how to focus your mind, and is often the base of many other meditations.

Heart-centered meditation: This is done by quieting the mind and bringing ones attention to the heart.

Mindfulness meditation: You do this by focusing on negative thoughts as they move through your mind and letting them go without judgement to achieve a state of calm.

Tai chi and qigong: This type combines physical exercise with breathing and focus.

Transcendent meditation: This is done by repeating a mantra, word, phrase or sound to quiet done your thoughts and achieve greater awareness.

Walking meditation: This helps in focusing on both your mind and body as you breathe in synce with your footsteps (Harvard Health, 2014)

Advantages of meditation

The benefits of meditation are many. It positively impacts our physical health and mental awareness, which also includes cognitive functioning and emotional control. Studies show that there are reductions in.

  • Stress levels: Stress causes an increase in the stress hormone called cortisol. This hormone produces many of the harmful effects that come with stress, such as a release of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. These chemicals can cause insomnia, increased blood pressure, increased depression and anxiety, and cause fatigue and cloudy thinking.
  • Depression: Meditation is a great tool to help depression. It helps us let go of our negative thoughts and anxieties. Meditations such as loving-kindness meditation teaches you to love yourself and others, and this can really help a person in combating their depression.
  • Anxiety: A study showed that 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation can help reduce anxiety levels in people with generalized anxiety disorders. Yoga is also a great way to help reduce anxiety. This could be due to the fact that it incorporates both meditation and physical activity.
  • Burnout: Meditation is a great way to reduce stress and improve wellness. Wellness is process that someome takes to become more self aware so they can make healthier choices and lead a successful life. This helps in balancing a person’s emotional, physical, intellectual, social, and spiritual health. The reduction in stress and improvement in wellness is a sort of self-care that helps greatly in reducing the chances of a burnout.
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There are also some psychological benefits which include.

  • More levels of empathy: Meditation can help in improving positive feelings towards yourself and others. A type of meditation called metta or loving-kindness meditation, focuses on developing kind thoughts and feelings towards yourself, then gradually people learn to extend this kindness to other people. A study with 50 college students showed that practicing this meditation 3 times per week improved their positive emotions, interpersonal interaction, and understanding of others. Improved interoceptive abilities, which is stimuli and sensation within the body (Thrope, 2023).
  • Overall better psychological wellbeing 
  • An increased awareness that our actions and behaviour reflects our choices
  • Higher level of self-transcendence, which is rising above self and relating to something bigger 

Here are a list of benefits that meditation has on the brain.

  • Slows done brain aging, particularly the thinning of the prefrontal cortex
  • Improved attention: A study showed that those who listened to a meditation tape showed a better attention and accuracy whilst completing a task, compared to those that didn’t listen to it. Another study showed that meditation can reduce patterns in the brain that contribute to mind wandering, worrying, and poor attention.
  • Increase in innovative skills 
  • Better problem solving
  • Improvement of mental health conditions that follow after trauma
  • Reduced age related memory loss: Studies have showed that regularly meditating can help reduce memory loss in older people and people with dementia (Mph, 2022).
  • Helps in fighting addiction: Meditation can help in improving mental and self discipline, and this can in turn help in breaking dependencies by increasing your self awareness and control for addictive triggers. A study with 60 people in treatment for alcohol use disorder showed that regularly practice of transcendent meditation was associated with reduction of stress levels, psychological distress, alcohol cravings, and alcohol use after 3 months.

Not only does meditation improve your mental capacity but it also helps in improving the physical, some examples are:

  • Strengthening immunity
  • Improved sleep
  • Reduced panic attacks 
  • Increased work satisfaction 
  • Reduced chronic pain
  • Reduced hypertension 
  • A lowered risk of cardiovascular disease

Long term advantages

In 2013, Ramsburg and Youmans explored the potential of meditation in helping improve students to retain knowledge. In one of their experiments a group of higher eduction students were given a meditation session or rest after a lecture, and another group were not given either. When a test given based on the topic of that lecture was given, the ones that meditated or rested did better than those that didn’t, meaning they retained more information.

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A review of 4 decades of research on the benefits of meditation on eduction showed that, when students meditate they are able to achieve their academic goals, manage their wellbeing and stress, and much more alot better than those that don’t.

Chronic pain is also something that meditation can improve tremendously. Researchers tracked brain activity as they induced pain in willing participants. After a 60 to 80 minute meditation session the participants noted a 45% reduction in pain, and this was also confirmed by the fMRI scanner. These improvements are double of that of a clinical dose of morphine (Sutton, 2023).

Whilst interviewing long term meditators, many of whom are instructors, researchers found that they had qualities that help in improving and maintaining relationships. Some of these qualities are.

  • More aware of bodily sensations
  • More emotionally intelligent 
  • Better accepted situations
  • Showed increase in compassion for themselves and others
  • Being less reactive in relationships 
  • Experiencing better safety in the connections they formed
  • Having better understanding of intimacy

Meditation has many long term benefits and some of the best people to look at when looking for the long term benefits are teachers and instructors of meditation, for they have likely been practicing and teaching it for a long time. In doing some digging researchers have found long term meditation to have some wonderful benefits. Some include.

  • Reduced Brain Aging: As mentioned above meditation is very helpful in combating this.
  • Improved Psychological Functioning: Helps in adaptive functioning and skills needed to manage demands of our environment.
  • Long term meditators compared to the average person that doesn’t meditate, were said to ruminate less, fear their emotions less, and show more effective behavioural regulation.
  • Body Mass Index (BMI): Long term meditators have been shown to have better BMI than non long term meditators. Studies even showed that when yoga was used as a short term intervention, for people that don’t meditate or do yoga, weight, insulin, and blood pressure were seen to be improved within weeks.

How to start

One really great thing about meditation is that it isn’t costly, it’s easy anyone can do it, and it doesn’t take much time. All that’s required to meditate is a quiet place and few minutes of your time. You may start by doing only 5 to 10 minutes, whatever works best for you. The specifics of the meditation practice depend on which type your going for, but here are the basics to get you started. 

  • Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, make sure to remove any distractions.
  • Once your settled, close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
  • Breathe slowly and deeply for several beats
  • If thoughts come, just let them go through your mind without any judgement, and if you find your mind wandering, refocus on your breath
  • You may also chant out loud or in your head a mantra, or just repeat a word or phrase and focus on that, it can really help with clearing your mind 
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It isn’t unusual for beginners to have difficulty focusing for more than a few seconds at a time, but thats alright. The more you meditate the longer you will be able to focus. Try to meditate regularly and as time goes on you can increase the duration of the session, consistency and patience can go a long way in bettering your skill.

Conclusion

Meditation is a great tool to help improve our mental and physical wellbeing. With time and patience it becomes easier and one can improve their skill and gain more benefits from the practice. It can help a person with stress, anxiety, and just overall improve their mood on a daily basis. It has many benefits in different kinds of settings and in dealing with many different things, it’s really good and helpful in improving a person’s productivity and view of life in the workplace, relationships, eduction, and many more. I heavy recommended everyone try meditating regularly, overtime you may start to notice you have more control over your thoughts, emotions, and impulses. I hope that this article was helpful in shedding light on the amazing benefits that meditation offers and hope that it encourages more people to try it out for themselves.

Bibliography

Sutton, J., PhD. (2023). 20+ health benefits of meditation according to science. PositivePsychology.com.

Thorpe, M., MD PhD. (2023, May 11). 12 Science-Based Benefits of Meditation. Healthline.

Harvard Health. (2014, July 16). What meditation can do for your mind, mood, and health.

Mph, Z. S. (2022, October 27). What are the physical and mental benefits of meditation?

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