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 to the mental training of a Buddhist monk to reap some of the many rewards associated with meditation.
“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,” suggests Deepak Chopra.
Meditation is one of those subjects I’ve never paid much attention to. For some reason it always struck me as a bit too “New Age,” but 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, it can also be used to help treat a range of psychological disorders ranging from anxiety to depression. Since May is ‘Meditation Awareness Month,’ it seems like a great time to take a closer look at the practice of meditation.
The Psychological Benefits of Meditation
So what exactly are some of these benefits you might reap from meditation? Recent research suggests that meditation can:
- Improve working memory
- Increase fluid intelligence
- Raise 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 who’s 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 though. 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.
Drop and Give Me an OMMMM
Okay, I’ll admit it – I’ve never meditated before, but it is something I’ve recently developed an interest in practicing. Fortunately, there is plenty of great information out there on how to get started with meditation. Given the potential benefits, I think 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 helpful tool in your self-help arsenal.
The first step – 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 involve the classic “sit quietly and clear your mind” 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. The “mindfulness” meditation type is one that has been shown to have a number of psychological benefits such an increased attention and improved self-awareness, but focus on choosing one that works best for your needs.
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.
- Try this great 5-minute medication practice that can help you get started. This looks like a really handy introduction to the process and a great way to reap some of the rewards of meditation.
One 2007 survey of Americans found that an estimated 20 million people meditate on a regular basis. As researchers continue to uncover the many benefits of meditation, this is a number that is bound to increase.