3 Reasons To Start Meditating Today
Posted: Oct 16, 2018
Meditation has really taken the West by storm over the last few years. It has been practiced in the East for millennia, but it has only really been a cultural phenomenon in the West for the last 5-10 years or so. It hasn't been a slow growth, however. It has been nothing short of an explosion.
In 2015, 8% of people in the United States said that they meditated at least once per year. That is a very large number of people. Now we don't have figures for how many people meditated 10-20 years ago, but I don't think it's unfair to say that it is an awful lot lower.
Today, meditation is preached as an indispensable tool for a happy, healthy, successful life. This is very similar to how many people think about it in the East. In the West, however, it isn't monks who are giving this advice out; everyone from health bloggers to business gurus are telling people that they need to meditate regularly if they want to achieve their goals.
Meditation has actually become big business in some places; associated practices like yoga and "mindfulness" have spawned something of a meditation industry: books, guides, classes - corporations are even employing "mindfulness" advisors to help keep their workforce happy and motivated.
That is to say nothing of the money spent on yoga 'retreats' in the West today.
The idea of taking yourself away to a calm, monastic setting and dedicating serious time to meditation and self-reflection has a long history in Eastern cultures. It is something people do at certain points in their life. In parts of South East Asia, young men are still sent to spend some time as a Buddhist monk from a very young age.
In the West however, such retreats are big business. Corporations pay tens of thousands of dollars to have their employees go away and spend 3-4 days getting to know their 'inner selves'.
All of this is understandably looked at with scepticism by some people.
They hear the buzzwords, they see the money being poured into these things, and they smell a fad, a fashion, or even a scam.
But the simple fact of the matter is that meditation works.
It doesn't just work; it works extremely well.
Far from having a single purpose or benefit, meditation can positively impact multiple different aspects of your life; from helping you be more productive in work to helping you better deal with your emotions, regular meditation practice can make a big difference.
Here are just 3 of the ways that meditation can help you be a healthier, happier, more productive person!
Meditation Lowers Blood Pressure
Several clinical trials have found that meditation actually has a profound impact on blood pressure.
If you look at this meta-analysis (source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3303565), for example, you'll see that the authors looked at multiple different studies on the link between meditation and blood pressure. In their words, they "reviewed landmark studies and recent literature concerning the use of meditation for reducing blood pressure in pre-hypertensive and hypertensive individuals".
Their reviews were absolutely incredible: "Transcendental meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction may produce clinically significant reductions in systolic and diastolic blood pressure."
The authors did stress that more studies were needed before meditation could be prescribed as a treatment for hypertension. But the fact that multiple different landmark trials have found clinically significant reductions in blood pressure from meditation is something to keep in mind!
Meditation Improves Cognitive Function
We now know that regular meditation improves several different aspects of mental performance: focus, mood, anxiety - all of these things can be positively affected by regular meditative practice.
The biggest impact is almost invariably on focus. When you meditate, you are training your mind to remain focused on one particular thought, mantra, or on nothing at all. The goal isn't to not have interfering thoughts at all.
It is inevitable that your mind will wander.
No, the goal is to repeatedly bring to locus of attention back to the thing you are trying to focus on.
This trains the brain to deal better with interfering thoughts, distractions, and diversions. It trains you to really keep your mind focused on the task at hand.
Meditation's effect on cognition goes beyond this training of focus, however. Way beyond.
Several studies have shown that regular meditation enhances memory, verbal fluency, working memory, and "cognitive flexibility". Some studies have even suggested that it may help attenuate age-related cognitive decline. Obviously, much more work is needed here. But these early findings are definitely very exciting!
Meditation Reduces Stress Levels
This one is easy to get your head around.
Of all the benefits of meditation we can talk about, this is the one that most people intuitively grasp right away. This is the reason why many people are drawn to meditation. That regular meditative practice reduces stress and anxiety is almost self-evident.
At the very base of it, meditation is simply when you set aside a period of time each day for quiet self-reflection. You sit in a quiet room, relax, and try to clear your mind of unhelpful, intrusive, or distressing thoughts. You focus on one feeling, sensation, idea, or mantra until all other thoughts are completely removed from your mind.
It isn't hard to understand how that will help you gain some perspective; to help you see how easily your problems disappear when you stop to think of them as problems.
But this is all very abstract. The link between meditation and anxiety has now actually been proven scientifically. This article discusses a meta-analysis which looked at meditation and anxiety. Dozens of studies have been done on this topic, and they have all almost universally found some link between regular meditation and lower incidences of psychological stress.
After looking at over 40 studies, the authors were confident enough to say that "mindful meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain".
A peer-reviewed journal does not publish things like that lightly! Of course, more investigation is needed to establish a clear link here. But that is definitely a huge check mark in favour of meditation!