Today’s fast-paced, high stress world is exactly what meditation is good for. It’s no wonder that more and more people are discovering it and experiencing the benefits of meditation.
There are many different forms and styles of meditation. Meditation is also very different depending on the culture or religion it is practiced in. In the west, one of the more common and popular types of meditation is mindfulness.
However, whether you’re practicing mindfulness or other forms of meditating, many of the benefits will overlap.
What meditation is good for
First, let’s look at what meditation is good for and back it up with some studies and science. In a world inundated with high powered marketing and hyperbole, we want to be careful not to overstate or exaggerate the benefits of meditation and the effects on the mind it has.
We should also note that meditation will benefit different people in different ways, and it will be more useful for some people compared to others. It’s also important to note that meditation is as good as the amount of practice you put in.
One thing to be careful of is seeking instant gratification and results. Sometimes, there’s a placebo effect for new comers, who think meditation is working, when they’ve only scratched the surface learning how to meditate. For others, they give up after a few sessions because they lack patience.
Think of meditation as less of a solution to a problem, and more as a spotlight on a problem, we can offer insight to the solution. Of course, there are cognitive benefits, but when it comes to using meditation as a solution for problems and disorders, it takes a lot of work.
So let’s take into consideration that with enough practice and finding the right style of meditation for you, here are some of the things that meditation is good for.
Mindfulness can be considered the state of living in the present moment. However, mindfulness can also mean being aware of the thoughts and emotions that take your attention.
It’s very easy to get lost in thoughts, or allow ourselves to become our thoughts, especially when they’re negative. Meditation helps us practice being more mindful of the present moment and taking a step back from our thinking and emotions, and observing them, instead of simply acting or following them.
Anxiety and Stress
The most common state of being for most people is to live in the past or future. Very few people actually take time to live in the moment or even notice the present.
This is where a lot of stress and anxiety comes from. As mentioned earlier, mindfulness allows us to become aware of this type of thinking, which can allow us to let go of this anxiety and stress, when we begin to realize that it’s not these thoughts that make us anxious, but our judgement of these thoughts.
Studies have already shown how meditation affects the brain and the areas of the brain that control our moods, how we feel, and anxious thinking.
Depression is the leading disability around the world. This may be one of the reasons why meditation has become more popular and common in the west, since many people are using it to help deal with depression and its symptoms. There are also several studies that suggest regular meditation can help provide relief from depression.
For example, Johns Hopkins did a study that suggested meditation provided about as much relief from depression as what other studies found with antidepressants.
Mindfulness meditation requires one to sit and pay attention to, and focus on, the breath for long periods of time without allowing the mind to wander or become distracted.
This kind of training and discipline helps develop the focus muscle of the mind. So not only are you getting all the benefits of meditation, you’re also training.
When you’ve trained your mind enough to allow it to be quick to notice when the mind wants to wander, or has become distracted, it will be that much easier to return the focus to the important task at hand. Whether it’s improving focus for work, school, productivity, or living more present, guided meditations for focus are a great training tool. Think of it like the personal trainer for the mind.
Meditation, specifically Loving-Kindness meditation can help create more positive emotions, and thus a much more happier state of being.
There’s also evidence that suggests people that meditate are more likely to maintain this state when they encounter challenges and tough times in life. They’re more likely to adjust their judgements of these challenges, and much more likely to meet these challenges head on.
You know the feelings and physical reactions to anger: heart beating faster, fists clenching, teeth grinding, and a cloud of enraged thinking.
With a regular meditation practice, it’s possible to not succumb to these feelings and physical reactions every time something happens that you might have an emotional response to. Meditation is a great tool for anger management.
Science backs this up, too. Meditation practitioners weren’t emotionally reactive to situations that would have previously made them angry.
Ever feel stuck? Ever stare at a blank page and think “what the heck am I even trying to write”? Ever feel like you’re lacking that bit of creativity to solve that puzzle or be better at your job?
You’ve probably never thought to meditate but studies show that meditation can get the mind out of cognitive rigidity and thus open the mind to more creative thinking. Mindfulness meditation can also clear the mind of distracting thoughts, which can sometimes act as a barrier or roadblock to creative thinking.
Cravings and addiction
Meditation (and likely nothing) could ever truly eliminate one’s desires. It’s part of human nature, even when it becomes extreme such as cravings and addictions. However, regular meditation can make us aware and witness these cravings, instead of becoming a victim to them.
One of the benefits of meditation is that it will train you to notice cravings as they appear, instead of following or acting on them, sometimes without even thinking.
Severe addictions can feel like we’re helpless, or out of control. However, training our minds to be more self-observant helps give us that much more control and at least a chance to witness the craving instead of acting impulsively on it.
In one study in particular, smokers were much more likely to quit smoking and cease from smoking several weeks later, when they participated in mindfulness meditation training.
Meditation can help clear the mind of thoughts that persist at night and can keep one from falling asleep. With meditation, you can create the conditions for a good nights rest before heading to bed with specific guided practices focusing on sleep.
But the science also suggests that meditation practices can help increase melatonin levels, which is a hormone that plays a very important role in the regulation of sleep. So besides meditation being a great tool to clear the mind before bed, the benefits of meditation include helping the body release the right chemicals so that sleep occurs quicker and more naturally.
Empathy and compassion
Loving-Kindness is a form of meditation that can help one become much more in touch and aware of the feelings of people around them. It can help you develop more compassion towards others if you feel like it is lacking in your life.
This isn’t all to say that meditation will make you passive or “weak”, which is a common concern for people who are interested in learning how to meditate. Even people in the most intense and violent lines of work (like martial artists) meditate and understand the benefits of meditation.
Other benefits of meditation
In addition to the scientifically proven benefits of meditating, there are other benefits to a regular meditation practice that can improve one’s quality of life.
Meditation is an opportunity to take out from momentum of the day, the constant thinking, and the massive amount of thoughts and feelings that enter the mind all day, to take 10, 20, or 30 minutes in silence and observe your thinking non-judgmentally.
It’s not often that we take the time out to take a step back and just realize “what the heck is going on in my mind”. Meditation offers that self reflection that comes only if we make time and effort for it.
Regular meditation can give you a much better sense of self awareness. Once one trains themselves to become better at recognizing the kinds of thoughts that enter their minds regularly, they can begin to identify patterns, notice where the mind likes to wander to, or just how self-critical and judgemental we can be to ourselves.
Being self aware of this can allow you to be more patient with yourself, and maybe even a little more compassionate towards yourself. It’s very easy to be really hard on ourselves. But with a little self awareness, we can understand that it’s just a habitual thought that enters our minds, not actually who we are as a person, or a reflection of us.
Mindfulness meditation can provide a level of introspection that is just not possible without regularly setting aside time to observe the mind.
Once you do, you might notice just how mean, judgemental, irritable, and insufferable your thoughts and mind can be! In fact, you might even realize your mind is the cruelest and most maniacal person you’ve ever met! This level of introspection can allow us to begin to take steps to correct for some of our behaviors, impulses, and thought patterns.
It can also help us get to the root of some of our internal struggles. Maybe it allows us to identify a solution, or even if it doesn’t, it helps us better understand the problem that needs solving, and then seek out a solution for it.
There’s a lot of scientific and anecdotal evidence that supports many of the benefits of meditation listed here, as well as much more we’re still learning about. This ancient practice has some practical and very useful applications today, so why not try it for yourself with some guided meditations for free.