By Claire Holmes
By Claire Holmes
Meditation has been used for thousands of years to concentrate the mind and increase mental awareness. Historically, it’s been used for religious reasons. Today, it has become a popular tool for mental health and wellbeing.
People meditate for all sorts of reasons, and many claim that the act of meditating has changed their outlook on life. Meditation has been used to help people cope with stress, calm reactive behavior, and even boost the immune system.
Although meditative practices have been strongly advocated for thousands of years, there are still a lot of skeptics. Until recently, scientific evidence concerning the benefits of meditation did not exist. Today, many studies have been conducted to help validate claims about the physical and mental benefits behind practicing meditation.
In this article, we are going to cover, both, scientific and emotional reasons to practice meditation. More specifically: why is meditation an important tool and what are some fun ways to test its different forms?
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years, and in many cultures across the globe. Despite its many present-day permutations, its original forms continue to stand the test of time in many parts of the world. Meditation’s original forms live on in many religious settings including, but not limited to, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and Taoism. However, meditation has also been used in non-religious settings, including in Transcendental Meditation (TM), yoga, and guided meditations.
Here are some of the many forms of meditation:
This is an extremely important question that holds different answers for each individual who practices. Meditation, like many practices, is something that can be developed with consistency and used as a tool to meet personal aspirations. Whether you want to practice meditation once a week or everyday, meditation holds unique benefits that can only be determined by you and your practice.
Research suggests that meditation can benefit people through the promotion of mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. Meditation is widely used as a tool for managing overall stress, physiological wellbeing, immune system health, sleep, memory, and attention span. This means that those who practice meditation have a means of coping with the ups and downs that life throws at them. The best part about this valuable tool? Anyone of any age or ability can give it a try!
Being an Environmental Engineer, I always search for evidence-based data to support the claims people are making about what I choose to practice. These are the five benefits that have been backed by scientific study:
Stress reduction is hugely important for our health since chronic stress is linked with an increased risk of heart problems, diabetes, and high blood pressure.1,2 Meditation reduces stress by bringing people into the present and allowing them to focus on their breath. Breathing techniques in meditation stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for “rest and digest.” When the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated, the body relaxes, levels of cortisol go down, the immune system functions better, and the individual begins to feel more at ease.
Meditation is both a tool to help relieve daily stress and anxiety, as well as cope with depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).5,6 Meditation brings relaxation to the body and allows for the reduction of symptoms present in these mental states.5,6 This is also due to its ability to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, as we’ve just learned in the previous tip!
When your body is in a state of rest, it is able to heal and produce a proper immune response. According to Black (2016), mindfulness meditation has been shown to demonstrate an association with “reductions in pro-inflammatory processes, increases in cell-mediated defense parameters, and increases in enzyme activity that guards against cell aging”.7 This translates to meditation’s ability to reduce study participants’ immune responses by decreasing inflammation while increasing cellular defense. Increased cell defense allows for your body to protect the integrity of its cells while lowering the risk of “disease, poor healing, and mortality” that comes with chronic inflammation. Mindfulness meditation also aided in reduction of premature cell aging.
The overall state of relaxation from meditation is correlated with improved sleep patterns. In a 2012 study, Nagendra, found that, of their sleep-study participants, the “‘senior meditators’ spent more time in the slow wave sleep… [and] the rapid eye movement sleep was also found to be enhanced.”8 This meant that the participants who had been meditating for longer periods of time and were, therefore, considered “senior meditators,” had enhanced deep sleep indicators. Why should we care about these deep sleep indicators? When our bodies go into deep sleep, they’re able to restore themselves with maximum efficiency. Therefore, sleep is important for overall mood, productivity, and performance. This study was preformed with people who practice transcendental meditation.
There are long-held beliefs that the practice of meditation aids in increased mental aptitude. Meditation is associated with increased cognitive function, including increased memory, attention control, and enhanced creativity.5 Gerritsen (2018) found that meditation significantly increased cognitive function to the extent that study participants were able to combat age-related decline.5 In other words, participants who practiced meditation were able remember more and hold their attention longer compared to “non-meditators.” These participants also showed more verbal creativity.5
Meditation and its benefits are still being studied today. As meditative practices become increasingly popular, the number of studies on their benefits grows. So far, scientists have found many benefits for both physical and mental health. It will be exciting to see what else they continue to discover!
I currently practice transcendental meditation (TM), guided meditation, and yoga. This all started in high school as a means to control mood fluctuations and anxiety. After only a few months, I couldn’t believe the impact it had already had on my life. I not only had better control over my anxiety, but felt an increased sense of self-esteem and self-worth. This only got better in my early twenties when I was able to physically and philosophically develop my yoga practice. My journey with yoga gave me a sense of spirituality, as well as the tools for coping with environmental stressors and attachments—some of which include self-compassion and forgiveness.
The effects of my meditative practices have been both immediate and long-term. For instance, I feel more calm and centered immediately after practice, while, in the long run, yoga has enabled me to become a more confident and less-reactive person.
I cannot recommend enough simply trying a short meditation or yoga class. One of the best things about today’s practices is that there are so many techniques available. Now, anyone can have the ability to choose which type, for how long, and where to practice. You, too, can play with the options and find what works best for you!
There are many ways to get started with meditation! In order to get the full benefits of your practice, start small and build on your technique. Similarly to any training, consistency and finding the right practice for you are extremely important.
If you are interested in a starting meditation, here are some links you can check out:
To become involved in transcendental meditation, you will need to work with a certified teacher for more information: https://www.tm.org/learn-tm
Here’s a link to a guided restorative yoga + meditation class that’s great for beginners! It’s only 35 minutes long, but makes a huge difference in uplifting your mood: https://youtu.be/rrLkhg3fA0M
Meditation has many benefits, including the 5 scientifically-studied benefits we discussed today. There are many reasons to start practicing meditation today! Even one session can positively impact your health, regardless of your experience-level or the consistency of your practice. It’s never too late to begin, and all ages are encouraged! Just relax, light a candle, listen to your favorite restorative tunes, and allow your thoughts to escape into your breath. Remember: be patient with yourself! If distractions or thoughts come up during practice, remind yourself that they are okay, while gently guiding yourself back to your breath.
Need a guide? See any of the above links. You’re doing better already! Last but not least: be kind to yourself and meet yourself where you are today. This is your health and your journey. You want it to be sustainable for you.
One of the greatest gifts that I have received in my life was my own discovery of health through nutrition. My background in Environmental Engineering and my career as a Fashion Model have shown me the variety of pathways that affect our health as a whole. The environmental toxins in beauty products, nutrients in food, or the energy in media we consume all have a significant impact on our health. In order to continue my life’s passion and to be able to help others find their health, I have become certified as an Integrative Nutrition Wellness Coach by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and I am entering a masters program in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at Teachers College Columbia University to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. I want to help others find their journey to sustainable health as I have found mine. I use the phrase “sustainable health” because health has to continuously work for you in your everyday life and environment. Perfection is not the goal, it is the journey that matters.