Over the years, meditation has proven to be a helpful tool that can be beneficial to anyone irrespective of age, gender, race, status, etc. once you engage in any of the outlined forms of meditation in the previous chapter, you are assured of a sense of calm, peace and balance that can benefit both your emotional well-being, relationships, and your overall health. The good thing about these benefits is that it doesn’t go after you end a session; you get to enjoy these benefits as it can help carry you more calmly through each day, enabling you to manage stress, fear, anxiety, and any symptoms of certain medical conditions.
Several research types have shown that meditation can improve an individual’s health, especially if the medical condition worsens by stress. However, meditation isn’t a replacement for traditional medical treatment; instead, it may be beneficial as an addition to other treatments. For conditions such as Asthma, Chronic pain, Heart disease, High blood pressure, Anxiety, Tension, headaches,
Depression and cancer, most research suggests that meditation can help patients manage symptoms.
However, in some cases, meditation can worsen symptoms associated with certain health conditions; therefore, it is advisable to speak with your healthcare provider before using any meditation if you have any of these physical or mental health conditions.
Depression and Anxiety
Our brains tend to release an increased level of the stress hormone cortisol whenever stressed; this results in the release of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. This chemical affects us negatively and can promote depression and anxiety, increase blood pressure, and contribute to fatigue and cloudy thinking. However, as we begin to engage our minds with these meditative exercises, our body gets relaxed, and hence it reduces anxiety symptoms, especially in people with generalized anxiety disorder. It also enhances an increasing positive statement about the stress that can translate to less anxiety, decreased distress, and strain. Do note that Meditation isn’t a magic bullet or a treatment for depression. It is an active training of the mind to focus, redirect your thoughts and manage depressive symptoms.
Our perception of pain is usually connected to our state of mind. Hence, when we get stressed out, it increases, but by incorporating meditation into our routine, such pain can be controlled or reduced, improving quality of life. For instance, with mindful meditation, studies have shown that those who engage in meditation often showed a greater ability to cope with pain and have decreased symptoms of depression when in chronic pain.
We all experienced the same causes of pain, but meditators experience a reduced sensation of pain. Thus, meditation can help treat chronic pain when used to supplement medical care or physical therapy.
Heart and Blood
Meditation can also improve physical health by reducing strain on the heart and improving blood pressure. When your heart works harder than usual to pump blood, it can lead to poor heart function, an attack, or a stroke. Still, with meditation exercises, the blood pressure gets controlled as the nerves, the blood vessels in your body get relaxed, and the strain on the heart and arteries get reduced. The heart gets coordinated effectively, preventing any heart disease.
Other Neurological Benefits
The practice of meditation appears to produce various measurable changes in our most important part of the brain. Not only does meditation help relieve our levels of depression and improve our overall psychological well-being, but meditative exercises also has several other benefits such as:
Preserve Aging Brain
As we age, our brains tend not to preserve a memory for a longer time than our agile days. However, people who engage in meditative practices have more grey matter volume encompassing regions throughout their brains, which implies that although they still have some volume loss, it isn’t as pronounced as the non-meditators. Meditation, done over time, ensured they have better-preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged.
Reduces Activity in the Brain’s “Me Center”
When we are not thinking about anything, in particular, our minds keep wandering from thought to thought. This mind-wandering can also be typically associated with worry, being less happy, or ruminating about the past and future. However, meditation is a valuable tool to dial this down.
Studies have also found that mindfulness meditation quiets down activity in the brain network (default mode network) responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts. Even if the mind wanders, people who engage in this exercise quickly snap back out of it.
Volume Changes in Key Areas of the Brain
Over the last decade, some researchers have discovered that meditation, done overtime consistently, can change the brain’s structure. The major change is such that:
There tends to be an increase in the brain’s cortical thickness (Hypothalamus) that governs learning and memory, emotion regulation, and self-referential processing.
Meditators also tend to decrease brain cell volume in the brain (amygdala) responsible for feelings such as stress, anxiety, and fear.
Not only does meditation bring changes to the brain structure, but it also changes our subjective perception and feelings as well because these changes also encompass some areas that are linked to mood, arousal, and overall well-being.
Although many people meditate due to its tremendous physical and mental benefits, the spiritual aspects of the practice were the origin of its development several centuries ago, among other wide variety of reasons. Irrespective of its popularity nowadays on an individual’s physical and mental health, its spiritual benefits remain an important and crucial part of it for many people worldwide today. The western world once viewed it as a bizarre and mysterious practice; we can trace its roots to the earliest forms of Hindu religion practised in ancient India. Over time, it further incorporated new religions and belief systems like Buddhism into it. As more centuries passed, it developed independently in various forms such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and some pagan religions, but were not widely practised by the general population.
But today, not only is meditation quite common and a generally accepted practice, it acts as a spiritual practice of connecting with a divine being. There is always a spiritual aspect to meditation, but that spiritual aspect is will largely be determined by how an individual defines the level of spirituality he expects
Those who use meditation for its spiritual benefits use it as a way to delve more deeply into their minds and discover their true selves, communicate with the deity they believe in, or achieve a higher plane of consciousness, among other reasons.
The Spiritual Benefits of Meditation are impossible to quantify because the importance of those benefits is practising meditation. Besides, not everyone defines spirituality, or its benefit is in the same way. Thus, what an individual might consider as being spiritual, another person might see it as psychological, irrespective of the case.
Here are some profound spiritual benefits of meditation.
Inner Peace / Inner Silence
We’ve all been living in a “noisy” world, highly characterized by continuous and unending information, both online and offline, from the ding from our smartphones and computers to the sound from the televisions and radios, to the gist from friends, family, and coworkers.
Even when we disconnect our electronic devices and get away from other people, we are still caught up in the web of chaos, clutters, and noise because our world today has been structured in a way that the massive amounts of new information that we are being exposed to, absorbed and processed daily is quite alarming. However, when you engage in any form of meditation, you tend to “switch off” yourself by training your mind to turn inward, away from external disturbances. With the noise temporarily turned down, our mind gets settled; this stabilizes us spiritually and helps us to still find and experience inner peace and tranquillity throughout the day.
Discovering Your Purpose and Finding Fulfillment
Getting a total understanding of what you are can seem pretty much unattainable in our stressed and rapid-paced world. However, Meditation brings the spiritual benefit of helping you get to a state of self-realization, a better understanding of who we are and why we are the way we are, and how to change those parts of ourselves we are not satisfied with. By getting in touch with the “me” and understanding it, we tend to understand better and positively interact with the people around us.
With this better understanding of who we are and who we truly want or are ‘meant to be, we are then allowed to channel our energy towards changing certain thoughts and actions that limit us from embracing the better person our true self is capable of becoming.
Have you ever stopped considering who you are, why you are here, what your life’s purpose is, and what will bring you fulfilment?
Then you can reflect on those questions by sitting in silence in meditation. Spending some time in meditation will open doors to help you find the answers you need.
Deeper Awareness and Open Mind
In certain religions that regularly utilize meditation, achieving mindfulness and remaining mindful is one of the first steps to finding enlightenment and is crucial in establishing a closer connection with a divine power or higher deity. Meditation enables a meditator to be ‘ in the now completely.’; being in the present includes such an individual being consciously aware of thoughts and feelings, i.e., where they are and what they are thinking and feeling the moment.
Once in the present, these individuals achieve an increased level of Self-realization, deeper awareness, and understanding of the world around them. Hence, they begin to see and experience things as they truly are, without any judgment or artificial filters and barriers that our minds constantly create. Once we can curtail these judgments, we begin to approach people and situations with a more open mind, leading to better understanding and relationships and a deeper spiritual connection.
We are often filled with regrets or guilt about our past actions or decisions; not only this, but we also worry about our tomorrow, about things which we have limited or no control that might affect our future, and as a result, our minds get jammed up, leaving us with inner confusion and spiritual unbalance that affects the quality of our lives negatively. Although our nature is to regret and worry when this becomes a dominant emotion, we are likely to become unhappier, depressed, and stressed.
But with meditation, especially the mindfulness component, you get to turn your focus away from the past and the future and concentrate more on the present. As you continue this practice, you’d better understand what you are thinking and feeling your stress and negative areas; thus, it will help develop internalized strategies for eliminating them.
When this occurs, you’d be able to let go of the negativity associated with your past, accept those things you cannot control, and also deal with those things that may happen in the future, taking things as they come mindfully.
Moods and self-image
Promotes emotional health such that when you meditate, you get to clear away the information overload that builds up every day and contributes to your stress. Most forms of meditation can lead to improved symptoms of depression, self-image, and a more positive outlook on life. Meditators are found to experience fewer negative thoughts in response to viewing negative images; this is because the cytokine levels, the inflammatory chemicals which affect mood, tend to reduce.
Meditation has also been found to aid in developing a more robust understanding of yourself and others. It tends to make you more tolerant as you relate to those around you; it also helps you grow into your best self. Meditation also gives you the benefits of recognizing your thoughts, especially negative or self-defeating thoughts; once in awareness of these thoughts, you can steer them toward more constructive patterns and improve your belief in your capacity or ability to overcome challenges.
Other Emotional Benefits
Once you have a thorough awareness of yourself and your thoughts, you begin focusing on the present and become allergic to wandering negative thoughts. When you live in the present, you tend to gain a new perspective on stressful situations and build skills to manage such stress. With a mind free from all negativity, you become more likely to imagine and creatively develop ideas and solve problems.
Apart from enabling you to be aware of yourself, Meditation also aids you to understand those around you, helping you relate effectively. Engaging in meditation also brings about relief from symptoms of social anxiety. You can use it to become increasingly attentive to your surroundings, enabling a positive mood and outlook on life while generating positive feelings and actions toward yourself and others. By engaging in the loving-kindness form of meditation, you tend to develop kind and forgiving thoughts and feelings toward yourself first before learning to extend this kindness and forgiveness to neighbours, friends, then acquaintances, and ultimately your enemies. It would also make you more tolerant when relating with others, increase your ability to be empathetic and compassionate, improve interpersonal interactions and make you understand the world better.
Help with Addiction
A growing number of studies have shown that meditation can help people recover from various types of addiction. While engaging in this exercise, meditation also tends to affect the brain’s self-control regions such that you are more likely to discipline yourself to break out from dependencies mentally.
Also, given its effects on self-awareness, you become more aware of the triggers of the addictive behaviour. With such an understanding of the causes behind your behaviour, you are more likely to redirect your attention away from it and manage your emotions and impulses, so you’d experience the craving normally. Still, you’d ride it out until it passes.
Therefore, you can manage triggers for unwanted impulses, manage unhealthy habits, redirect such habits to an empowering activity, and recover from addiction over time.
Work is an important activity in our lives. Apart from being a mental model that helps us curtail the spill-over effect of work-related stress, meditation also helps us that our time, energy, and attention is used in a balanced and effective manner, providing a sustainable support system that we can leverage to balance work and the other things in our life.
It is one of the primary reasons most people try meditation. Almost all the meditation styles can help improve stress-related or triggered conditions such as PTSD and irritable bowel syndrome, among others. Given its capacity to reduce inflammable chemicals, most styles of meditation can help reduce stress.
Calm and confidence
Meditation is so beneficial for performing at work and business, an environment fraught with uncertainty, risk, and a lot of stress. The calm and tranquillity of practising meditation enable meditators to make wiser decisions and work smarter instead of harder; they make better choices about spending their time, energy, and attention. Such inner calm enables them to obtain confidence and develop trust within themselves and the world in general.
One of the main benefits of meditation is that it improves concentration and Lengthens attention span. We often perceive that problems with concentration and attention are usually a kid thing; however, millions of adults in America are affected by this problem.
Irrespective of how long you’ve started meditation exercise, especially the Focused-attention meditation, your cognitive skills get improved such that your focus and attention get strengthened while completing a task. Your mind tends not to wander off as your concentration gets sharpened, enabling you to perform better.
The hustle and bustle that comes with this digital age of ours make nearly half of the world’s population struggle with insomnia at some point. But individuals who engage in mindfulness meditation have been found to help our body relax, release tension in our muscles, and place you in a peaceful state in which you’re more likely to fall asleep. With such programs, you tend to control or redirect the wandering thoughts that often can lead to restlessness and insomnia at night or interfere with your sleep.
Also, such meditation practice helps you stay asleep much longer, improving sleep quality.