I started meditating at the end of 2014, and made it a daily practice mid-2015. Before that, I had given all of the excuses in the book for not starting. Most frequently, “my mind is just not wired to sit still. I’m constantly going through my to-do list or thinking about an upcoming client interaction. My monkey mind just doesn’t slow down.” Yet I kept reading about the benefits of meditation, and became more and more convinced that this was a habit worth incorporating into my life. After the first few sessions, I honestly didn’t feel any different. But once I started meditating regularly, after weeks and months, I came to notice several incredible benefits, and became firmly convinced of its power. It is now a critical part of my daily morning routine (which you can read more about here and here). So today, I want to share my top 7 health benefits of meditation, then guide you on how to start meditating, if you’re new to the practice.
Top 7 Benefits of Meditation
- Meditation makes little things seem like little things. This is by far the biggest benefit I personally have noticed, and it didn’t dawn on me until I was in the airport a few years ago, after receiving news that my flight (which had been delayed three times) was now cancelled. My first thought was, “OK, time to get a hotel for the night and tell tomorrow morning’s clients I’ll have to reschedule,” and my second thought was, “Wow, I’m so grateful that I’m financially able to get a hotel, and that I own my own business so I won’t be docked for the time tomorrow.” My third thought was, “WHAT?!? Who is this calm and balanced person that has somehow taken over my brain?!?” Prior to meditation, I would have let this (small, in the grand scheme of things) stress me out beyond belief, and would have felt frustrated and angry. With a regular practice of meditation, though, I was able to see the situation for what it was: a minor inconvenience. Do I like flight delays now? No, of course not. But can I handle them? Absolutely.
- Meditation reduces cortisol (which, yes, reduces belly fat). Cortisol, one of our body’s stress hormones, promotes inflammation that can eventually lead to impaired sleep, high blood pressure, chronic conditions, and yes, increased belly fat storage. In today’s society, we don’t just get surges of cortisol when we need to run from a lion, though, we have it almost all of the time. While meditation can’t take away the ups and downs of your job or make your crying baby stop crying, it can reduce cortisol and the corresponding inflammation, which is great for your health.
- Meditation helps you stay present, even when you’re not meditating. The act of focusing on your breath or being aware of your thoughts while meditating helps you become more aware of your wandering mind throughout the entire day, even when you’re not meditating. In the past, I would have a very hard time not going through my to-do list while sitting in meetings or even at dinner with my husband. Now, I find it much easier to simply be present and focused on the now, rather than ruminating about the past or future. (Note: I still have significant room to grow, but I’ve only been meditating for a few years! This is a lifetime journey!)
- Meditation slows aging. Meditation is such a powerful brain booster that studies have shown it actually lengthens telomeres, which are structures at the end of chromosomes that are linked to high stress and accelerated aging. Other studies show significant improvements on attention, memory, and general cognition in aging individuals, and even improvements in the brain function of those with Alzheimer’s.
- Meditation has heart and immune system benefits. Meditation has repeatedly been shown to lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, and improve addictive tendencies. The benefits are far-reaching, and scientists haven’t been able to explain every mechanism, but the conclusions are powerful!
- Meditation is a simple but powerful form of self-care. So many of us are looking for ways to incorporate more self-care into an already busy lifestyle. (If you need ideas for how to incorporate self-care into your life, check out this post! Meditation is not only one of the most powerful, but also one of the simplest. You can do it anywhere, anytime. And you can give yourself a “gold star” for prioritizing yourself!
- Meditation reduces anxiety. I’ve talked here and there about my own struggles with anxiety, but suffice it to say I was on anxiety medication for almost a decade and am now managing it on my own. A big part of how I manage my own anxiety is with my regular meditation practice. (Note: I am in no way suggesting that you should come off of your anxiety medication or that meditation is an “easy fix;” neither are true!). It’s not just me: there are many, many studies that show reductions in anxiety with a regular practice of meditation. If you deal with anxiety and haven’t yet tried meditation, it may be worth a shot!
OK, let’s do this!
Convinced of the benefits, but not sure how to get started? Here are several ways you can experiment with meditation right away:
- Focus on the breath. Turn off any distractions (phone, computer, etc.). Sit or lay in any position that is comfortable for you. Then, simply focus on your breath. I like to count my breaths, and see if I can make it to 10 without losing focus (spoiler: most times I can’t, and that’s OK! Meditation is the process of bringing yourself back to the present, back to your breath, and so when I realize I have drifted, I simply start over at 1 and make my way back to 10). That’s it! If you did that, you just meditated! No fancy chants, no special positions or complex instructions. Just a simple focus on the present.
- Use an app. Both Headspace and Calm have been hits with my clients (link to Health Coaching page), and they offer free, 7-10 day trials before asking you to pay a small fee to continue. They’re both fantastic ways to start a meditation practice and offer guidance that is approachable for a “normal,” unexperienced meditator.
- Go all the way. I LOVE my Muse headband, which monitors my brain waves and gives me biofeedback when I achieve more mental calm. It’s an expensive purchase, but it has enhanced my practice considerably. If you’re committed to meditating regularly, I recommend it!
Now it’s your turn … Do you meditate regularly? What are the most significant health benefits of meditation that you have experienced?