Meditation is the quieting of your thoughts through controlled breathing and relaxation. I credit meditation for having helped me get through some of the toughest times in my life. When I’m overwhelmed, meditation calms me. When I’m lost on what to do with my life, meditation leads me to incredible insights and awareness. And when I’m down or even depressed, meditation lifts me up by flushing out the negative thoughts.
In this post I’ll list 10 major benefits of meditation, backed by meditation practitioners and numerous studies. But that’s not all. In the end I’ll show you a simple meditation routine that I use to reap all those benefits. And it only takes 8 minutes a day.
10 Benefits of Meditation Explained
Before I get to the quick meditation routine I practice daily that takes just 8 minutes, here are some of the main benefits of meditation, backed up by research.
1. Improved Concentration
For those that are easily distracted, meditation can greatly enhance your concentration skills. Many types of meditation center around focusing on the breath as you inhale and exhale for the entire duration of the practice. As your ability to focus on your breath increases, you’ll find so does your ability to focus on any task in front of you. I’ve noticed this first hand myself after just one week of meditating.
2. Reduced Stress
Stress is the constant agitation of our thoughts and actions due to unnecessary worry and an increased flow of our thoughts, whether relevant or not. Meditation allows the individual to learn how to control the reactions to their thoughts — not the thoughts in general. Meditation allows a person to bear witness to their thoughts without unnecessarily reacting to them, and plan their next moves accordingly.
When you have the ability to witness your thoughts and not act on them, the agitation that a flurry of thoughts creates greatly reduces. In this way, daily meditation– and honing the ability to control your reaction to your thoughts — can help to reduce stress. In fact, a study performed by Rosenkranz, Davidson, MacCoon, Kalin, Lutz, and Sheridan concluded that those practicing mindfulness meditation practices were more likely to show fewer signs of a stress response than those who did not practice.
3. Slows the Cognitive Decline of the Brain as It Ages
Meditation has been proven to slow the cognitive decline of your brain as you age, by literally reconfiguring the psychological makeup of the human brain, as shown by Sara Lazar, a researcher at Harvard University. She says that meditation can actually increase the amount of gray matter, or cells, in your brain. In fact, her research shows strong evidence that meditation not only slows down mental decline in older people, but may actually improve their cognitive abilities.
4. Meditation Increases Happiness
Meditation has been proven to increase the use of the left side of your brain in the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with positive emotions. In turn, the right side, which is associated with negative emotions and thoughts, decreases in activity. Essentially, our brains literally become reprogrammed to think happier and more positive thoughts while diminishing negative thoughts. This was further explored in a study conducted by Richard Davidson in 2002, where he concluded that short term mindfulness practices had a direct affect on brain functions, specifically in the left side.
5. Meditation Encourages Healthy Living
Meditation increases happy and positive thoughts and decreases stressors on the body, which, in turn, make you feel better about yourself. Those who practice in meditation are shown to continue this idea of healthy living by making smarter and more health conscious choices when it comes to their diet, water intake, and daily exercise. Meditation increases the ability to focus and stay on task, which makes this transition into a healthier life easier.
6. Increases Self-Awareness and Acceptance
The ability to bear witness to and not react aggressively to thoughts while meditating allows the individual to become more self-aware. They have the ability to choose what thoughts to react to and what thoughts to let pass by. Through meditation an individual is invited to explore their inner self; this allows them to open up to their own thoughts and actions and accept whatever crosses their consciousness.
7. Increases Cardiovascular and Immune Health
Because meditation increases relaxation and, therefore, decreases blood pressure and aggression, your cardiovascular health takes a turn for the better. In fact, daily meditation increases the abundance of nitrous oxide in the body, which helps the blood cells to open and blood pressure to drop. One study, performed by Goldstein, Josephson, Xie, and Hughes in 2012, concluded that breathing-focused meditation dramatically reduced blood pressure in tested individuals.
8. Decreased Anxiety
Anxiety is often induced in individuals who are prone to high stress environments. However, since meditation has been proven to lower stress levels over time, anxiety also tends to be reduced for daily meditators. Meditation also reduces anxiety-like symptoms, such as social anxiety, paranoid thoughts, panic attacks, OCD tendencies, and phobias. In fact, a study that followed 22 participants over three years found that daily meditation severely decreased the amount of anxiety felt by 18 of the original 22 participants.
9. Improved Memory Loss
Kirtan Kriya, a method of meditation that involves slow chanting, has been proven to decrease memory loss in older populations. It can also improve the memory of some participants fighting with dementia, and can help control the stress levels and coping of these individuals’ families. Furthermore, meditation methods that encourage chanting have been shown to focus thoughts and improve memory-based tasks.
10. Can Help Fight Addictions
Daily meditation demands constant mental focus. This increase in mental focus can help to break dependencies by increasing self-control and becoming more aware of triggers that perpetuate addictive personalities. In addition, a study performed in 2016 explored meditation effects on addictive personalities, and found that through daily meditation there was a increase in willpower and the ability to redirect their thoughts, control their emotions, and become more self-aware of the reasons why they were exhibiting addictive behaviors.
My Simple Meditation Routine- 8 Minutes a Day
There are many ways to perform meditation, but the most basic and easiest to learn is the “8 Minute Meditation technique”, developed by Victor N. Davich. This is the exact technique I use at night – for 8 minutes- whenever I need to de-stress or think more clearly. The steps to performing it is incredibly simple:
- Sit comfortably in a chair — and make sure that your feet touch the ground
- Allow your gaze to soften and your body to relax by taking a few deep breaths
- Gently close your eyes
- Follow the movements of the breath as you inhale and exhale.
- I like to imagine inhaling light as it fills up my body, and exhaling stress and all the unnecessary burdens of life.
- If your thoughts wonder, gently bring them back to your breath.
- Allow intrusive thoughts to come and go- do not fight them. Imagine yourself fishing: whenever an intrusive thought enters, gently release that thought like fish back to the water and return to your breathe without judgement.
- Do this for 8 minutes.
Set your alarm for 8 minutes, with a gentle music to bring you back out of your meditation so you’re not startled. As a beginner, try to sit up straight to avoid dozing off. I use a kneeling chair sometimes for that purpose, though a regular chair with a high back works as well.
In the beginning it will be difficult to keep random thoughts for entering your mind. Don’t get frustrated or impatient. Just observe each thought without prejudice, and gently release it. As you meditate more, you’ll find less and less thoughts disrupting your session as you’re able to focus on the breath for longer and longer.
With all the potential benefits of meditation, you really owe it to yourself to give it a try. Just 8 minutes a day has completely changed my life. It may just very well do that for you too.