Are you stressed out? Do you worry about your physical health? Your mental health? Your spiritual health? Do you wish you had less stress and anxiety in your life and more peace and harmony? Meditation can be your solution.
I felt all of these things a few years ago, and I thought I would go crazy or die. I worked 10-12 hours a day, 6 days a week, at a very stressful job. Had a wife and two kids at home who wanted and deserved my time and attention. Also, I had a mortgage, two car notes, tuition, medical bills, overdue taxes, and credit card debt coming out of my ears!
I was running nonstop through my days, trying to take care of everything and make everybody happy, but I never had enough time to take care of myself. In bed at night, my heart would pound from stress and anxiety. I worried about my job, marriage, kids, bills, house, health, and even my sanity.
My health was of particular concern. I felt tired all the time. I was gaining weight. My back was always hurting. Climbing even one flight of stairs left me breathless and dizzy. It was like I was falling apart physically, mentally, and spiritually.
I was really worried about myself, but I didn’t know what to do. I tried the gym, several fad diets, home exercise machines, and even time management programs. Unfortunately, I always had about the same results with each new thing I tried. They all seemed to help at first, but I just couldn’t stick with any of them for very long. So, I now realize that they didn’t work because they were all short-term fixes to a long-term problem. I had to change my life.
I knew I had a lot to learn, but I couldn’t afford to buy a bunch of books, and everything at the library seemed to be outdated. So I made a habit of stopping at the local Barns and Noble on the way home from work each day. I read everything I could find on stress, anxiety, health, diet, and self-improvement. Almost felt like a cheat just sitting there reading the books without buying them, but nobody seemed to mind. I usually bought a cup of coffee or tea just to ease my conscience a little.
On my journey, I read a lot of great books with wonderful insights on improving one’s life. Not surprisingly, one subject came up over and over; meditation. I had tried to meditate several years earlier but had gotten frustrated and quit before really giving it a chance. But, I was desperate and determined to try anything that might help.
One book, in particular, said, “Start right now!” I was too embarrassed to sit in the book store and meditate, but I didn’t want to waste another moment. So I went out to my car, adjusted the seat into a comfortable position, set my watch alarm for 30 minutes, then closed my eyes and started counting my breaths.
That turned out to be a defining moment in my life. Of course, I didn’t have instant success. Mediation takes practice and can be very difficult at times. But deciding to incorporate meditation into my everyday life changed everything for me.
I continued to stop at the book store each night for a while and split my time between reading and meditating. Nothing else had changed in my life. I still had a stressful job, my marriage, my kids, my house, and bills but, somehow, I was feeling better—less stressed—even more energetic!
No, it didn’t magically solve all of the woes in my life. But once I started feeling more relaxed and less stressed, I was better able to focus on the other things I needed to do to become mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy.
I soon started a daily meditation practice at home. I also began a reasonable exercise plan that included walking, a light workout, and yoga. These things, combined with eating right (most of the time), have literally changed my life. I’m now happier, healthier, and at peace with the world around me.
I hope this story inspires some of you to take that first step and begin incorporating meditation into your own life. This is the perfect time to make the decision. What better resolution than to change your life for the better? There are numerous meditation methods and practices out there and many resources available to you in book stores and on the web. I’m sure you can find something that works for you.
A Look at the Benefits of Meditation
Meditation establishes a secure connection between our internal and external worlds. It awakens the body and benefits all aspects of the conscious and subconscious layers of the mind. Out of the numerous perks that meditation gives, a few are listed below.
1. Meditation enhances empathy
Loving-kindness or compassion meditation fires neural connections to brain sites that regulate positive emotions like empathy and kindness. The deep state of flow that meditation induces builds social connectedness and makes us more affectionate and amicable as a person.
2. Meditation improves cognition
Researchers agree that an excellent way for professionals to increase the likelihood of success is to keep meditation practice as a part of their daily routine. Studies have revealed that both transcendent and mindful meditation practices improve the brain’s problem-solving and decision-making strategies, which can bring a desirable shift in our professional life.
3. Meditation is a natural stress stabilizer
Stress is the body’s response to unforeseen adversities. Encountering immediate threats increases the cortisol level, or stress hormone in the body, and activates the Autonomic Nervous system, which is responsible for fight-or-flight responses. Brain studies of regular meditators revealed lower cortisol levels in their brains, which explains their resilience and insightful nature.
4. Meditation promotes emotional health and well-being
Studies have shown that meditation improves self-image and self-worth. When we meditate, we get a clear picture of our mind and become aware of the thoughts that drive our emotions and actions at the moment.
A large-scale study found that regular meditation decreases the likelihood of developing depression and mood-related disorders (Jain, Walsh, Eisendrath, Christensen, & Cahn, 2015). Besides some forms of meditative practices, which also promoted positive thinking, as researchers stated, could improve an individual’s overall emotional health.
5. Meditation increases attention by inducing a state of flow
Have you noticed how meditation absorbs you into the moment? Mindful awareness comes naturally to us when we meditate, and we reach a ‘flow’ state where our mind is in complete harmony with itself. A study on the effects of an eight-week mindful meditation course found that regular meditation practitioners had heightened attention and concentration span.
Can Meditating Before Bed Improve Sleep?
Meditation, at any point of the day, benefits us in an array of ways. Whether we start our day with a peaceful session, practice it during lunch breaks. Or meditate just before going to sleep. The positive impact is profound and visible.
Some recent studies have proved that meditating at night helps people with insomnia and sleep disorders. A short practice right before we hit the bed helps to calm our nerves. Get us also into a relaxed state before we sleep.
Whether meditating at night is more effective than morning meditation is still a matter of debate, but sleep meditation is surely positively correlated to better sleep-wake cycles. Sleep problems, including apnea, insomnia, and nightmares, are everyday stressors today.
Disrupted sleep can suck all the energy out, and we wake up all tired and exhausted. The impacts of insufficient sleep are deep-rooted and can cause long-term damage. Especially for professions like software development and teaching, where the brain works more than the muscles, stress can be humongous.
Ensuring a tight sleep is essential for maintaining productivity at work, and meditation can be the best solution we can offer ourselves for this. Research says that meditation improves the REM sleep state by up to 60%, making us sleep like a baby and wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
Practically, there is no limitation to when or for how long we can meditate. Understanding your mind and body needs can be the first step for choosing a meditation time and robustly beating the sleep epidemic.
How Does it Help with Stress?
Many researchers today argue that the effect of meditation on stress might be overrated. While there is evidence that supports a lack of commitment and consistency in daily meditation, we haven’t yet reached the point where we can question the effectiveness of meditation and mindfulness for promoting mental peace and happiness.
In the 1970s, Herbert Benson, a physician at the Harvard Medical Institute, introduced a meditative practice called ‘The Relaxation Response.’ Benson’s studies on stress and its impacts revealed that the adrenaline rush that sudden adversities create could suppress the nervous system and blood circulation. That increases the chances of cardiac arrests, depression, manic psychosis, and even cancer.
The relaxation technique that Herbert proposed helped in regulating the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine. Which ultimately could reduce the blood pressure and stabilize the upsurges that the stress brought. The relaxation response became famous as a supportive adjunct in counseling. And medical treatments and slowly gained massive popularity owing to their severe impact on stress reduction and management.
Following his line of research, here is a brief outline of how meditation helps in reducing stress:
- Meditation helps in controlling blood circulation that spikes up during stress. As a result, it reduces the vulnerability of developing hypertension and stress-induced cardiac arrests.
- By regulating the hormonal balance, meditation prevents diseases like hypothyroidism, diabetes, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
- Meditation is a natural nerve-soother. People who rely on meditation to ease work stress or personal tensions seldom have to rely on alcohol, sleeping pills, or other harmful substances to relax.
- Meditation calls for healthy sleep cycles, which is the body’s natural healing mechanism.
- By consciously focusing for a few minutes every day, we can become more vigilant and aware of our thoughts. And emotions, and find it easier to replace the negative automatic thoughts with positive ones.
- Meditation releases tension from the muscles and make us feel more energetic and ‘in-control’ of ourselves, even during times of distress.