Cultures around the world practice meditation. Some use it to promote religious experiences and others as simply a healthy way to clear the mind. But what is it about meditation that leaves the mind clear and body relaxed? Modern science sheds light on what exactly meditation does and why we all might want to consider making it a part of our daily routine.
Focus on the Present
The most obvious benefit of meditation lies in its ability to help the mind focus on the present. Those who experience frequent anxiety often find themselves in a mental loop where they relive events from the past, experiencing the distress they may have once felt or remorse over not being to change the outcome. Future events like public speaking, a test, or a job interview can cause the same circular thinking pattern that leads to unnecessary worry.
Meditation, with its focus on the in and out movement of breath and the feelings of the moment, encourages a mental shift away from the thoughts of the past and future. Being in the moment where it’s safe and calm allows worry and anxiety to drift to the background. That doesn’t mean it won’t come back, but it helps teach practitioners how to control and process feelings.
Beyond the mental benefits, there are measurable health benefits like a reduction in inflammation. Inflammation is the immune system’s way of fighting infection or injury, but when it happens for prolonged periods of time or your body produces too much it, it can contribute to illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, or Alzheimer’s disease.
Meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation, impacts the structure of the brain itself, which causes a reduction in inflammation. Gentle meditation improves the connections between the part of the brain responsible for internal reflection and the executive area that does the planning and decision making. Inflammation, stress, and anxiety all go down together as the brain is trained in how to handle stress.
A Long Lasting Impact
While other relaxation techniques work, their effects don’t last as long as those that come from meditation. The key to making the effects last seems to be a consistent effort over time. While the time spent meditating each day doesn’t have to be long, some people show improvement with only ten minutes of daily meditation, consistently doing it over time is when you start to see a marked change in thought patterns and a greater ability to relax.
Making those new connections in the brain takes time, but once they’re there, reaching a relaxed state becomes easier. You can do it before going to bed or first thing in the morning, but incorporating into your daily routine prepares you for better, long lasting health.