Meditation has been used for centuries as a powerful tool of self-healing. Understanding that health is holistic and that the human body is machine—one in which even if a small part goes awry the whole system can suffer—is an important pillar in beginning to understand meditation.
There was a time when only yogis practiced meditation. Yoga is one of three paths to enlightenment in Vedic tradition, meaning that there are three avenues to escape the cycle of re-incarnation. Yoga is one of them, but meditation is just part of yoga. Meditation in itself is utilized in all three paths. Even if you’re not a person of faith or even slightly spiritual, you can still benefit from the many health benefits of meditation. However, once you get into the habit of meditating, it’s common to want to dig deeper into its roots.
Meditation has been linked to optimizing the healthy practices of just about any activity from workouts to addiction recovery. Meditation is the practice of taking some time in a safe, quiet, and comfortable space to reflect inward. It’s often said that the goal is a completely blank mind, but that’s nearly impossible. Instead, the goal should be to quiet the mind. Know that thoughts will come, acknowledge them, then send them on their way. For beginners, meditation can be nearly stress-inducing. It’s rare that we disengage from our overstimulated world and sit with only ourselves. That’s where meditation tools can help.
There are many ways to meditate. While seated is common, walking meditation can be a great tool. You can indulge in forest bathing (mindful time spend in the woods) or fire up a candle and gaze at the base (the tip is too hot for your eyes). These types of mild distractions can keep thoughts at bay and give you something to focus on. Others prefer japa meditation, which is the counting of a 108-bead strand of mala beads. It’s usually paired with a mantra, but you can choose whatever positive affirmation you like.
What kind of benefits can you expect? Here are just a few:
- Lower stress and anxiety levels. In the west, we’re often stressed and mental disorders such as anxiety are so high because we’re constantly over-loading ourselves. We’re always in front of screens or otherwise making sure we’re stimulated in some other capacity. Sitting quietly without any technology and focusing inward sounds a lot easier than it is. It can be unnerving, particularly for those with technology addiction. Start small with just a few minutes and work your way up. Thirty minutes is considered quite long, but an achievable goal to work towards for many.
- Better concentration. We live in a society where multi-tasking is revered, but researchers have shown that just a tiny percentage of the population can actually multi-task. Everyone else is just jumping from one task to another, not doing any of them well. When we slow down, like with meditation, we’re our better selves. Our mind needs to be fed.
- We connect better with ourselves and others. Social media was supposed to make it easier to connect, but studies have found the more time a person spends on social media, the lonelier they feel. We need to start with feeling at peace with ourselves and enjoying our own company. This starts from within, and meditation can help. It can also teach us to slow down, to listen, and make us better friends.
- Our blood pressure will lower. Slowing down also leads to a lower blood pressure. For many in the west, this is a great thing. Blood pressure has been rising on average over the years, and can be a factor in heart disease. Heart disease is one of the number one killers in America, but it can often be managed. Perhaps starting with meditation is the most conservative approach of all.
- It teaches us to breathe better. One of the best meditation tools is pranayama, or breath control. There are various types of pranayama, and beginners should start with a guided class or very conservatively with just a few breaths of each type. Our breath is powerful, and we barely tap into it at all. A safe option is four-part breath with equal counts inhale, hold, exhale, and hold. Fill the lungs entirely and practice breathing into your belly and back. These areas are rarely stretched. The more oxygen we take in, the better off we are.
- We relax the facial muscles. So many people are rushing for Botox to calm those “angry elevens” between our brows, but it’s pinching and contorting the face excessively that can cause deep and premature wrinkles. Meditation encourages a slack, relaxed face which can help relieve tension headaches and wrinkles.
The many benefits of meditation are holistic. You’ll enjoy a better physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. However, it can be intimidating to start. There are many myths about meditation, such as “right” ways to practice or for how long. Play and experiment. Meditation can be hard, but it should also be joyful. If a tool doesn’t work, ditch it and try another. Find what works for you, and the health benefits will follow.
About the Author
Joshua is an ex-addict and founder of the Ohio Addiction Recovery Center. Since his recovery began, he has enjoyed using his talent for words to help spread treatment resources, addiction awareness, and general health knowledge.