What simple activity can increase your concentration, lower your stress, and help you sleep better? These are just a few of the many psychological benefits of meditation. Fortunately, you don’t need the mental training of a Buddhist monk to reap some of the many benefits of meditation.
There is a growing body of research that demonstrates the enormous positive impact of meditation. Not only can meditation have a positive influence on your well-being, but it can also be used to help treat a range of psychological disorders ranging from anxiety to depression.
According to data from the 2017 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), around 14.2 percent of adults and around 5.4 percent of children in the U.S. use meditation.
In this article, learn more about some of the benefits of meditation and some strategies you can use to incorporate meditation into your life.
The Benefits of Meditation
So what exactly are some of these benefits you might reap from meditation? The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health suggests that meditation can also be helpful for a range of conditions including:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- High blood pressure
- Smoking cessation
- Ulcerative colitis
One type of therapy that incorporates meditation is mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which has been shown to improve quality of life and mental health.
Research also suggests that meditation can:
- Improve working memory
- Increase fluid intelligence
- Increase scores on standardized tests
- Impact different aspects of attention, including reducing attentional blink
Meditation has also been used to treat anxiety disorders and help people manage stress.
In an article for The Greater Good, researcher Wendy Hasenkamp suggests that meditation can also help people control mind-wandering. People whose minds wander often also report that they are less happy, possibly because these ruminations are centered on negative or unpleasant thoughts.
By learning how to control thoughts and improve concentration through meditation, people are then better able to disengage from these disruptive trains of thought. It is for this reason, she suggests, that meditation can be a helpful mental health tool in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It’s a way of entering into the quiet that’s already there – buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day.Deepak Chopra
Types of Meditation
The first step is to decide which type of meditation is right for you. There are almost as many different ways to meditate as there are people who practice it, so here’s a quick run-down on some of the meditation practices you might choose to focus on.
Some popular types of meditation you might try include:
- Body scan meditation
- Breath awareness meditation
- Focused meditation
- Kundalini yoga
- Loving-kindness meditation
- Mantra meditation
- Mindfulness meditation
- Sound bath meditation
- Spiritual meditation
- Transendental meditation
- Zen meditation
Some involve the classic “sit quietly and focus on your breath” approach, but others take a more activity-centered approach (like participating in an engaging sport or hobby) in order to help you get “in the zone” and achieve a state of flow.
Mindfulness meditation is one type in particular that has been shown to have a number of psychological benefits such as increased attention and improved self-awareness.
There is no single type that is right for everyone. Focus on choosing one that works best for your needs.
How to Get Started
Fortunately, there is plenty of great information out there on how to get started with meditation. Given the potential benefits, it’s something that is worth devoting a little time to each day. If you are struggling with stress or anxiety, you might find that meditation can be a useful tool in your self-help arsenal.
For a simple beginner meditation, start by choosing a time where you can set aside around 10 to 15 minutes to sit by yourself in a quiet spot free of distractions.
The first step is to find a quiet, comfortable place to sit. There are no rules, so focus on sitting in a comfortable place where you can relax. You might sit on a cushion on the floor, but you can also sit on a chair. If you sit in a chair, position both feet flat on the floor and sit up straight.
When you are ready:
- Close your eyes.
- Focus on your breath.
- Pay attention to the sensation of inhaling and exhaling.
- Notice your thoughts.
- Imagine yourself setting these thoughts aside.
- Bring your focus back to your breath when you notice your mind wandering.
It is a common misconception that you should try to clear your mind when meditating. The goal is to focus your attention on your breathing, and then gently redirect your attention back to it when you do find your mind wandering to different thoughts.
If you are just getting started, you might want to try meditating for around five minutes per session and gradually work your way up to longer 15- to 20-minute sessions.
Things to Remember
A few things to remember:
- There are lots of meditation techniques and guides out there, but don’t get too hung up on whether you are doing it “right.” Find what works for you and stick with it.
- Scents and sounds can also help you relax and focus on your internal thoughts. Some experts suggest that medication music and aromatherapy can help enhance your meditation experience.
- When you are getting started, focus on meditating for around five minutes at a time. This looks like a really handy introduction to the process and a great way to reap some of the rewards of meditation.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Meditation: in depth. Updated April 2016.
Greeson JM, Webber DM, Smoski MJ, Brantley JG, Ekblad AG, Suarez EC, Wolever RQ. Changes in spirituality partly explain health-related quality of life outcomes after Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. J Behav Med. 2011;34(6):508-18. doi:10.1007/s10865-011-9332-x