[Guest Post by Kosta Miachin, http://www.vikasayoga.com]
Part of a growing trend towards health, wellness and spirituality, meditation is incredibly popular these days. Whether it’s your doctor touting its health benefits, your co-workers raving about a new app, or your yoga teacher explaining it during class, you’ve probably at least encountered it somewhere.
And meditation is popular for a reason. People who practice regularly find it can make life more enjoyable in many ways, and these are just a few examples of its benefits.
- It reduces stress.
Nearly everyone reports dealing with stress. Whether it’s facing a demanding boss, worrying about money, caring for ailing parents, or raising a family, most people have many different stressors in their lives. The rise of social media and mobile technology has only increased stress levels, making it harder to disconnect from work and easier to feel like you’re not keeping up with the Joneses.
Of the many scientific studies on meditation that have now taken place, its effect on stress is one of the most widely studied benefits(1). Experiments using a variety of mindfulness and meditation techniques have concluded that it lessens feelings of stress, even when compared to other relaxing activities. Further, since stress can bring about a host of other negative conditions, ranging from weight gain to insomnia, reducing stress can even have a multiplier effect for practitioners.
- It reduces anxiety.
Stress and anxiety are closely related, and many people suffer from both. But unlike stress, Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a diagnosable mental illness, and anxiety is also the primary symptom of conditions like PTSD, panic disorder, and phobias.
Many studies on meditation have found that it can bring about both short- and long-term reductions in anxiety(2),(3). One shortcoming is that these studies have looked mainly at anxiety as a symptom, rather than at anxiety-related diagnoses. Still, while treating the symptom will not address the underlying cause, easing sufferers’ experiences of anxiety can improve their quality of life.
- It improves sleep.
If there’s one thing people complain about more than feeling stressed, it’s being tired. The Mayo Clinic recommends seven to nine hours of sleep per night, but data shows that at least a third of Americans get less than that. Many factors influence people’s lack of sleep, including busyness, childcare responsibilities, and work shifts. But for some, part of the problem is simply being unable to fall asleep or stay asleep.
In part through reducing feelings of stress and anxiety as discussed above, practicing meditation helps you sleep better(4). For the many of us who are chronically fatigued, being more rested would make a huge difference in how we feel on a day-to-day basis.
- It boosts immunity.
Coughing, stuffiness, fatigue – nothing ruins an otherwise perfectly good week like getting a cold. In the U.S. colds are the leading cause of missed school and work days, and the average adult gets two to four colds per year.
In addition to its mental health-related benefits, meditation can actually help people get sick less often (5). Researchers have found that practicing meditation boosts antibodies, or proteins in the blood that the immune system uses to combat bacteria and viruses. Higher antibody levels mean your body is better able to fight off disease, making you less likely to catch that cold that’s going around.
- It enhances memory.
Struggling with memory loss is one difficult part of aging, and even young people can face short- and long-term memory issues. At any age, trouble remembering can affect people’s work, relationships, and leisure time.
Research has examined meditation’s effect on memory from many different angles, and studies using fMRI images found that it increases concentrations of grey matter in areas of the brain involved with memory (6). Other studies have found that it enhances both working memory and rapid memory recall (7). In addition, what people think of as “having a bad memory” is often just an inability to concentrate – and meditation can help with that, too.
- It helps with focus.
Many people have a hard time focusing well enough to get things done efficiently, especially at work. Whether it’s getting distracted by incoming emails and notifications, struggling to concentrate when faced with external noise, or simply feeling your mind drift away, it can be hard to stay focused on the task at hand, especially when it’s a boring or repetitive one.
Fortunately, practicing meditation increases connectivity within the networks of the brain that control attention (8). In other words, people who meditate are better able concentrate and less likely to become distracted. That means getting more done, faster, and with fewer mistakes – sounds like you and your boss will both be happy.
- It helps you pay attention to your life.
It’s easy to get lost in distractions, from Facebook and email to shopping and gossip, and then wonder where the time went. But meditation is all about being present and being mindful of each moment. Many meditation traditions teach practitioners to become aware of their body and thoughts, and to really take notice of what’s going on around them.
These are the types of teachings that help practitioners live in the moment and become more mindful in day-to-day life. The power of meditation to help you actually pay attention to your life is one of the most important ways it can make life more enjoyable (9).
Meditation is something everyone can do to help improve your mental and emotional health.
Meditation has a number of proven health benefits and can be done anywhere, anytime.
Meditation courses and support groups are also widely available.
Kosta Miachin is the creator of VIKASA Yoga method – a unique, challenging and effective approach to yoga. He is also the founder of VIKASA Yoga Academy.
To connect with Kosta: http://www.vikasayoga.com
(2). Study Link.