Meditation is the process of calming the mind in order to spend time in thought for relaxation or spiritual attainment. The fundamental goal of meditation is to reach the state of enlightenment, where we liberate our conscious mind from the continuous flow of external noise and random thoughts. Meditation helps us find inner peace and turns our mind from random confusing thoughts and restlessness to harmony, thereby letting us achieve an inner state of awareness while intensifying personal and spiritual growth.
For centuries, meditation has been used by sages as an effective method to work with the mind. In today’s stressful time, however, the scope of meditation has widened a great deal and beyond its original spiritual or religious purpose, more and more people are practicing it for health reasons. Several research studies too have linked meditation to physical and mental health. Practicing meditation on a regular basis brings mental serenity and enables us to perform every task calmly. It influences our day to day activities positively and helps relieve stress thereby, improving the quality of sleep which, in turn, improves our overall well-being. However, to experience the benefits of meditation, regular practice is necessary. It takes only a few minutes every day but once imbibed into the daily routine, its tremendous health benefits can soon be experienced. Some of such benefits are given below:
1. Helps relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression: Many studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can benefit those who fight with stress, anxiety, and depression issues. A 2014 literature review assessing 47 mindfulness meditation trials concluded that meditation is a useful means that helps relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression. It also showed that meditators feel less stressed and their levels of the stress hormone ‘cortisol’ decrease measurably.
2. Boosts brain activation: The parts of the brain concerned with involuntary bodily functions such as blood pressure, digestion, etc. can be activated by meditation. Scientific studies conducted by Harvard Medical School confirmed the healing effects and benefits of meditation. The findings revealed that relaxation can change the chemistry of our body by balancing it to its natural state with no stress and agitation, and that way, has a positive effect on various functions of our body.
3. Promotes better sleep: Studies have shown that people suffering from insomnia, could fall asleep faster by practicing meditation and mindfulness. Meditation practice helps the body learn to relax and also trains the mind to settle the attention on an object such as the breath and allow other thoughts and emotions to float by like clouds on a pleasant day. There are also guided meditations that are designed to promote sleep. Harvard Medical School suggests that focusing on a phrase such as “breathe in calm, breathe out tension” helps greatly when it is time to sleep.
4. Promotes healing: Meditation brings the brainwave pattern into an alpha state that promotes healing. The mind becomes fresh and happy. It cleanses and rejuvenates you from within and calms you whenever you feel overwhelmed, unstable, or emotionally shut down. With regular practice of meditation, your mind and body not only heal but strengthen also, and become able to deal with life’s challenges in a better way.
5. Lowers blood pressure: Meditation is quite beneficial for hypertension patients as it helps lower blood pressure. According to the US National Institutes of Health, meditation is the most effective way against mild hypertension. According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, patients who practiced meditation-based exercises had significantly lower blood pressure than those in the control group. Experts believe that meditation reduces the body’s responsiveness to cortisol and other stress hormones, which is similar to how blood pressure reducing medications work. Meditation reduces stress level because relaxation reduces the activity of the adrenal gland. Stress, besides diet, is one of the main causes for hypertension.
6. Reduces cholesterol: Cholesterol is not always bad; it sticks our cell membranes together, helps in digestion and in the production of vitamin D and sex hormones. But cholesterol in an excess amount gets into our blood and clogs the blood passages, building up and causing various other symptoms. When we are stressed, the adrenal gland gets activated and starts to produce cortisol. The steroid hormone in excess amount destroys body cells and when the cells get damaged, they are automatically patched up with cholesterol. The higher the stress, the more the hormone is released. The more the cells get damaged as a result, the more the cholesterol needs to be built to take care of the damage. As meditation naturally reduces stress, it lowers the level of cortisol. The lesser the cell damage due to cortisol, the lesser the requirement of excess cholesterol.
7. Slows down aging process: With time, telomeres in the DNA begin to fray, which in turn, causes aging. This process gets accelerated due to stress. Lab studies have demonstrated that the stress hormone cortisol reduces the activity of telomerase, the enzyme responsible for adding telomeres to the ends of the chromosome. Therefore, the fray of telomeres in DNA can be reduced if the amount of cortisol in body reduces. As meditation reduces cortisol levels in the body, the aging process automatically slows down. Studies have shown that meditators have more telomerase activity in their blood cells.
Meditation also increases the melatonin level in the body because of the brainwave frequencies in our brain during meditation. Melatonin is best known for memory, immune system and restful sleep. This sleep hormone and its antioxidant power prevent telomeres from shortening. Meditation impacts the brain waves to frequently increase melatonin and the increased melatonin thus affects telomeres in a positive way through their hormone receptors.
8. Improves digestion: Brain and digestive system are interconnected in a complex way and the connection between the two is very sensitive to moods. Our digestive system and internal organs are most sensitive and affected by anxiety, tension, and stress. Our stress level affects our digestion and causes problems such as cramps, bloating, and gas as this is how body reacts to stress. Most of the serotonin production in the body takes place in the gut and when that process is affected by stress, it results in a variety of symptoms. Meditation, on the other hand, not only helps relax the mind and body and relieve stress, but also increases the blood circulation and blood oxygen levels which makes digestion easier and serotonin level stable.
9. Boosts immunity: A study conducted at Ohio State University revealed that regular mindfulness-based muscle relaxation exercises lowered the risk of breast cancer recurring. A different study at Ohio State observing effects of meditation on elderly patients deduced that mindfulness and relaxation exercises practiced over the period of one month helped boost patients’ lymphocytes, those natural killer cells that upgrade the immune system. As a result, the subjects showed better resistance to viruses and tumors.
10. Enhances general well-being: Meditation elevates mood and contributes to general happiness and well-being. A study conducted at the University of Utah showed that mindfulness might be linked to self-regulation throughout the day, and that mindfulness might, in this way, contribute to better emotional and physical well-being.
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