5 Health Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
Do you worry about things that might never happen? Does your mind wander and prevent you from accomplishing anything? If so, the ancient exercise of mindfulness meditation might be for you.
Meditation is exercise for the mind. The goal is to keep your mind focused and calm. As you practice meditation, your ability to focus your mind on a specific target improves. It’s a simple act, but a powerful one. So powerful that there are 5 significant health benefits of mindfulness meditation.
Do You Have Monkey Mind?
The human being’s natural state of your mind is one of wandering, random thoughts. Meditation practitioners refer to it as Monkey Mind. Studies show there is a direct correlation between mind-wandering thoughts and unhappiness.
Mindfulness meditation teaches the mind to focus. Regular meditation practice helps you control your thoughts, reducing that Monkey Mind state. In fact, during meditation, the wandering default state of mind is turned off.
Studies show that mindfulness meditation improves sense of well-being and quality of life. As a bonus, these feelings continue beyond the time spent meditating.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a state of mind where you are, moment to moment, aware of your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. Your mind is not wandering off in the future, or stressing over the past. You are in the present. Your reality is right here and now. And, your awareness comes with a compassionate, non-judgmental stance.
Can you think of a time when you became caught up in the moment? When all your attention focused on the beauty of the landscape around you? You noticed the cool breeze running against your skin, the smell of fresh air, the chirp of a bird? During that experience, your thoughts calmed and your mind focused on the experience. You were in the moment – taking in the splendor of the mountain view, the forest, the city skyline; whatever it was. You were in a state of mindfulness.
The only difference between an experience like this and meditating? You choose to meditate.
There are many types of meditation, but this state of mindfulness is the most basic way of meditating. And, you can choose to practice it whenever you want.
1. Meditation Improves Cognitive Function
Cognitive function is an umbrella term for the processes of your consciousness. This includes everything – your senses, memory, thinking and problem solving ability. Anything your mind does is cognitive function.
A 2013 study on reading comprehension gave participants two weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training. Afterwards, researchers concluded that regular meditation improves cognitive function with “wide-reaching consequences”.
How to use meditation to strengthen our cognitive abilities
If you have an important test coming up – meditate before studying. This will help your mind create memories (facts or information). Then have a quick 5 minute meditation before taking the test to help your mind recall those memories.
2. Mindfulness Meditation Improves Concentration
Do you ever catch yourself reading a paragraph and haven’t a clue what it said? If your answer is something like “more often than I’d like”, meditation can help you change that.
The act of meditating stops distractions from claiming your attention. Meditation trains your mind to place the focus where you want. It also increases your ability to be mentally present in the moment. When you are mentally in the present, you acknowledge only what exists now. This is practicing a single-mindedness which is also a definition of concentration.
3. Meditation Reduces Stress and Controls Anxiety
Most of our fears and anxieties come from two things. 1) past events that we fear will repeat themselves 2) worrying about future events that do not yet exist. These phantom fears can keep you from taking care of your current needs.
Regular mindfulness meditation helps you manage any obstacles or tasks you are facing. Meditation trains you to address the hurdles or goals in front of you, then move on to the next hurdle or goal. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by life’s hurdles, you gain confidence in yourself. This confidence can decrease anxiety or stress levels.
Meditation Lowers Cortisol
When you are anxious or worried, your stress levels crank up and release cortisol into your bloodstream. This leads to stress-related diseases like peptic ulcers, migraines, heart disease, and even chronic kidney disease.
A study of 2nd year medical students measured their stress levels before and after they learned to meditate. The study found meditation significantly reduced the levels of cortisol in the blood. They further concluded that the reduction of cortisol may decrease the risk of diseases that come from stress.
4. Mindfulness Meditation May Offer Relief from Depression
Meditation makes it easier for you to recognize and control your state of mind. Being mindful of your present increases your self-awareness.
Increased self-awareness can lead to further understanding your emotions. And understanding your emotions can lead to better mental health. This is one reason why meditation can offer relief from depression.
Meditation can also help control repetitive negative thoughts that are so common with depression.
Some forms of clinical depression are due to neurotransmitters not functioning in your brain. Meditation stimulates these neurotransmitters.
It is important to note that meditation won’t interfere with antidepressants, you can use them together without any complication.
5. Meditation Keeps Your Brain Young
Recent scientific studies have discovered new physical benefits to our brain from meditation.
After the first two decades of life, gray matter density in the brain begins to decline. This shrinking is unavoidable. But, the decline seems to be more severe and steep in the group that does not use regular meditation.
Participants who were long-term meditation practitioners showed less loss of gray matter than those who did not meditate. This finding supported the researcher’s hypothesis that mediation is “brain-protective and associated with a reduced age-related tissue decline.”
Another study shows the potential for meditation to increase brain tissue. Participants had 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation training. Afterwards, they all showed an increase in measurable brain matter.
These are significant developments in ways to keep your brain young. It looks like the exercise of meditation is literally an exercise for the brain!
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Health Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation teaches you to develop an awareness of present-moment experience. This experience, when practiced regularly, provides amazing health benefits – increased sense of well being, increased concentration, improved thinking ability, less anxiety and stress, empowered self control to overcome depression and an actual increase in brain tissue! Wow! So many benefits!
Why not improve your state of mind and health right now and discover meditation for yourself?
Do you practice meditation? If so, what health benefits have you received? If you have questions, concerns, or other comments, we’d love to hear from you as well.
Related Article: How to Begin Your Meditation Journey
Written by contributing writer C.R. Smyth
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