Almost everyone has heard of yoga and knows its benefits. What is less well known, but equally important, are the benefits of a regular meditation, or mindfulness, practice.
To put it simply, meditation is training your mind. The goal is to be able to think about only one thing and, ultimately, to be able to think about nothing. It sounds simple but, especially in today’s fast paced world dominated by technology, it can be quite challenging. However, like anything that is challenging, it has many benefits. Here are eight some of our favorite:
- Increased productivity-Meditation requires focus. You learn to redirect your attention back to one thing. This enhanced focus not only keeps you from being distracted by external factors, but it also minimizes the possibility of making mistakes. This is important not just in a work setting, but in practicing sports or even hobbies like gardening and sewing.
- Better decision making– Have you ever made a decision in haste, or a decision fueled by emotion, and later regretted it? Meditation teaches us to take a step back from a situation and see it clearly for what it is. It helps us learn to “take a moment” before acting. This not only helps us make clear decisions when faced with a problem, but it can also be very helpful when deciding whether to have that extra piece of cake or third glass of wine.
- Enhanced discipline- People don’t always have a positive response to the word “discipline” because it simply doesn’t sound very fun. But discipline is necessary to achieve any goal. Something as basic as cleaning the house, or losing weight, requires us to do things that are not enjoyable in the short term to achieve a goal that, in the long term, makes us happier and healthier. Meditation allows us to see that short-term inconvenience or even discomfort as a transitory thing, which allows us to push through it.
- Better relationships- Anytime you react with another person, there is always room for disagreement. The closer you become to that person, the more often your emotions get involved. Cultivating the ability to take a step back from a situation allows you to see your emotions for what they are. You’ll still get angry or feel hurt, but having an awareness of your emotions can keep you from misinterpreting someone else’s words, or prevent you from saying something mean or hurtful that you’ll later regret.
- Stress relief– Training your mind helps you get control of your thoughts. Anxiety and stress are constructions of our own mind. Our thoughts just run away and we start thinking about worse case scenarios. If we can learn to bring our minds back to the here and now and focus exclusively on what we’re doing (often referred to as “being in the moment”), there’s no room for worrying about what will happen tomorrow, next month or next year.
- Lower heart rate and blood pressure- Meditation helps us to relieve anxiety and stress. This leads to a lower heart rate and blood pressure. In fact, a study by Harvard Medical School found that meditation makes the body less sensitive to stress hormones in a way similar to blood pressure lowering medication.
- Better sleep- Most insomnia is driven by an over active mind. Our thoughts either prevent us from falling asleep in the first place, or we wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. When you were little and couldn’t fall asleep, did your parents ever suggest you count sheep? This is actually a form of meditation- it trains the brain to focus on a single thing (the sheep jumping over the fence), which quiets the mind and encourages it to shut off.
- Enhanced sense of well-being- Meditation helps us sleep better, have more harmonious relationships and feel more relaxed. All of these things on their own help us feel good. But there’s more . . . meditation actually stimulates the pituitary gland. This causes it to secrete endorphins- the same chemicals that are responsible for that amazing feeling we get when we’re in love!
Given all of these benefits, why put it off any longer? Start your meditation practice today.
How to meditate
Like any skill, the best way to start is with “baby steps.” Try sitting in a quiet place every day for two minutes- we recommend setting the timer on your phone. Close your eyes and think about one thing that makes you happy. Whenever your mind starts to wander, acknowledge that it has wandered and simply return your thoughts to that one thing that makes you happy.
If you prefer to take a class, there is a wonderful place called the Isha Institute very close to Sparta, on the Cumberland Plateau. They offer day courses, and short retreats for absolute beginners and more experienced meditators. They even have an online course! Here is a link to their website: ishafoundation.org