We all are living stressful lives. A little bit of stress is a necessary component for healthily moving through life. But it becomes a problem when stress overwhelms the natural state of your equilibrium. When your mental and physical health is at stake, and your mind starts working against you. If you are wondering how does meditation help with stress, you are at the right place. The simple technique of practicing meditation every day can help reduce stress, anxiety, cure depression and improve cardiovascular health. Researchers have found that the age-old practice of meditation can change the way your brain functions. It can enhance grey matter in your brain and help with a variety of physical ailments. In this blog post, we will explore what is meditation and what is the science behind it.
What exactly is meditation?
The way we use fitness for physical health, meditation is an approach to train the mind to keep it healthy and fit. It’s a consciousness-altering method to attain physiological and psychological benefits. One may even look at meditation as a concept from the east where you imagine monks in robes who meditate in caves. But the great news is that mediation has come a long way, its popularity and acceptance has increased over the last century.
Many people use meditation as a practice to improve concentration, focus, and memory. A lot of successful entrepreneurs and millionaires today give credit to the practice of meditation for their success. Others refer to the practice as a source of spirituality to heighten their energies. In a nutshell, meditation means different things to different people. There is no hard and fast rule of meditating, you do the way it appeals to you.
Some key things to note about meditation is that it has been practiced in cultures all over the world. Nearly every religion, be it Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism or Hinduism; have a tradition of meditation. It has also been used as a psychotherapeutic technique to cure anxiety and depression.
Find below some popular forms of meditation:
Types of meditation
If you have never heard of meditation before or you are interested in trying a method as per your own convenience, you can choose from the different types of meditations available today. You do not have to visit India to meditate or go to a far-away land, or you don’t necessarily require the presence of a teacher to reap the benefits of meditation.
Mindfulness is a practice of being in the moment, being here. It’s an essential human ability to bring your focus back to where you are, what you are doing and what is happening around you. To experience life with your senses consciously, you have to practice mindfulness daily. So, with the mindfulness meditation, you choose to be aware of your thoughts, your emotions without any judgment. It’s a simple process of entirely being present with yourself.
Transcendental meditation is the most straightforward and effortless way of practicing meditation. It is often referred to as the key to unlocking inner human potential to explore self-healing and growth. It’s a technique to focus on a sound or a specific mantra to improve your mental balance. It’s not visualization or mindfulness but a way in which you gently rest your attention on a particular sound letting your mind the freedom to follow its natural course and settle into silence. The resulting silence creates a state of relaxation and restfulness in the body. And you come out of the process in a recharged and exuberant way.
Whether you are struggling with sleep or you want to practice breathing exercise, a guided meditation is a great way to begin. As the name suggests, it’s a process where you are guided and taken from one state to another to enhance calmness, compassion, and happiness. With the help of someone, the process becomes more accessible to experience because you are not overwhelmed by your own thoughts and struggles of bringing back your focus. The guided voice can be your route-map to visualize and disconnect from the mental noise. One can use the guided meditation through podcasts, online videos, and through a variety of apps available today, you don’t need a teacher’s physical presence to achieve the benefits.
The roots of vipassana meditation go back to 2500 years ago. With the goal of self-transformation and self-realization, Vipassana meditation is practiced in a specific environment to see the reality the way it is. The modern form of mindfulness comes from this ancient practice. It’s a gentle technique in which you pay attention, listen to your senses, smell acutely and break the many illusions. The word “Vipassana” means insight; therefore the practice is a self-exploratory, observation-based journey.
Loving Kindness meditation
The process of sending good wishes to others while you meditate in a compassionate and empathetic way is the process called loving-kindness meditation. To strengthen the feelings of connection and love towards oneself and others, this technique is a sympathetic form that can significantly help.
Chakra is a Sanskrit word which means “wheel”. Chakra meditation is a process of evoking the chakras present in our energy body. According to the science of yoga, we have seven chakras in different locations of our body which have corresponding colors. Imbalance in chakras affect how we act and live our life, we may also manifest specific health issues due to this imbalance. Therefore, chakra meditation helps in aligning them.
Benefits of Meditation
No matter which type of meditation you prefer to practice, there are various studies proving today how meditation helps with stress and depression. Let’s look at some benefits below.
Meditation help with stress
Our bodies have a natural tendency to trigger the flight and fight mode for survival which is referred to as stress response. In the early days, our ancestors received many benefits because of this natural phenomenon happening in the body. They were able to protect themselves from wild animals, fire or any other severe situation. But in the modern age, our stress response is easily triggered by a phone call, a notification, a negative person or a simple emotion.
Our bodies have become quick to react, and we get stressed very easily. When you meditate, the body enters a deep state of relaxation. Blood pressure is reduced, metabolism is reduced, pulse rate is decreased, and you move from activity to silence. Your body experiences many healing effects in this process, and you start maintaining the natural balance of emotions leading to relaxation response. Training your body to experience this state of deep relaxation everyday can help improve your mood, digestion and help reduce the everyday stress response. Meditation even changes the triggers of stress in your life. Small things don’t affect or trigger the stress response in you anymore.
Meditation increases the neurotransmitters of happiness
The deep state of relaxation which is achieved by a daily meditation practice can also trigger neurotransmitters in the brain which are responsible for good emotions and happiness. When you meditate your body releases dopamine, a critical neurotransmitter that increases your level of happiness and pleasure. Neurotransmitter serotonin, which is released during the meditation has calming effects, it is also linked with lowering down anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, fatigue or insomnia. Another key neurotransmitter which you can trigger in your body through this process is GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) which sends chemical messages through the brain and nervous system. It has an important role to play in controlling fear and anxiety when neurons become over-activated.
Meditation promotes relaxation and restful sleep
Lack of sleep adversely affects everything we do. When you don’t sleep well, you can exhaust your mind, decrease your coordination skills, affect your cognitive abilities, increase your risk of chronic disease and affect your emotional health. With constant meditation practice, you can achieve a good and healthy quality of sleep. You can cultivate a sense of calmness and take it on to your daily life. Scientific studies have proved that meditation helps in curing insomnia and promotes sleep essential for physical and mental health.
Meditation improves focus
Research suggests meditation improves focus because the process is such that you have to pay attention to your breath to meditate. Or pay attention to a specific sound, object to achieve that state of restfulness. When you strengthen the muscle of focusing, you eventually improve it. You are able to perform better at work and prevent burnout.
Meditation can change your brain’s stress patterns
Research conducted by Harvard University found that only after eight weeks of meditation, participants experienced growth in the brain waves associated with memory, learning, self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy. They also had decreased feelings of anxiety and increased levels of calmness.
Meditation enhances your physical health
Your meditation practice can significantly benefit your heart and keep it healthy for life. You can experience reduced blood pressure, improved blood circulation and have lower amounts of lipid peroxide, a harmful component that hardens the arteries. You may be surprised to know that frequent meditators have improved immune system as well. Your brain and immune system are connected; therefore controlling the brain can help prevent chronic disease.
Meditation reduces anxiety
Anxiety is a cognitive state which is connected to one’s inability to regulate emotional responses. There is an exciting phenomenon happening in your brain when you meditate. The more you meditate, the less anxiety you experience because we are actually loosening the connections of particular neural pathways. These neural pathways go to a part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) associated with accumulating information associated to us and our fears. The stronger neural pathways we have, the quicker we react to situations which can lead to anxiety. But with the regular practice of meditation, you can weaken these pathways.
Meditation increases the grey matter in your brain
Meditation increases grey matter in the hippocampus and frontal lobe of your brain. It is merely good news because the greyer matter you have, the more positive emotions it will induce. You will have more emotional stability and heightened focus. Meditation is so powerful that it can rebuild the grey matter in your brain in just 8 weeks.
How to meditate?
Now, that you have better clarity on how meditation helps with stress, it’s time to take some action.
To begin a meditation practice, start with understanding your “why” and commit to cultivating a daily habit. Because a regular practice is better than a perfect practice.
Some guidelines you can follow before practicing would be:
Whether your meditation practice can be done sitting on a chair or by lying down, the critical thing to note is to keep your spine erect during the process.
Choose the time that fits your schedule, you can choose to practice first thing in the morning which can kick-start your day on the right note or do it in the evening to wind down the everyday activities and achieve better quality sleep.
It’s very important to choose the right place to meditate, you want to ensure there is no noise or interruptions when you meditate.
Length of the practice
You can begin by giving 5 minutes of your day to your well-being. Later, you can slowly increase it as per your convenience.
Few more important things that you can take of are:
- Keep your phone on silent mode
- Wear comfortable clothes
- Maintain the optimum temperature of the room
- Your stomach shouldn’t be full
- You can practice some stretches before you meditate
- One must practice meditation with intention and clarity, so make sure you are not feeling tired already
There are many types of meditation practices to choose from today. Whether you prefer doing mindfulness meditation, or you find calmness in chanting a mantra or practicing visualization, many benefits come along with it. Once you begin a meditation practice you prioritize your mental health and inner well-being, you take responsibility for your life. You reduce the stress response and the triggers of the stress response. You experience better emotional states, you are able to reduce symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety to a great extent. Meditation is a mental exercise that can improve your memory, brain and help in increasing the grey matter associated with positive emotion.