Meditation can mean different things for different people, but in general is a state of awareness. A person in a meditative state feels calm and deeply peaceful while focusing on their inner world, as opposed to what is going on around them.
There are many different types of meditation, and there are various techniques that help to achieve this state. Meditation can form part of other practices, such as yoga and mindfulness, though you don’t have to do yoga or know anything about mindfulness in order to start meditating.
In general, meditation involves emptying the mind, and allowing your thoughts to appear without reacting to them. Learning to simply observe your thoughts, and your reactions to them can help you become more objective and more in control of your emotions. Meditation also involves focusing on your breathing, which helps you to relax both your mind and body.
Meditation has many of the same beneficial effects as regular exercise, such as increased immune function. Regular practice also lowers your risk of developing high blood pressure and many other diseases, and can prolong your life.
Meditation has a profound, positive impact on the brain; it can even change its shape. One study showed that after 11 hours of meditation, participating practitioners experienced structural changes in the area of their brain related to focus and self-control (the anterior cingulate cortex). Meditating for even very short periods of time also has a range of benefits:
Practising meditation can help you sleep better, for longer, and mean you have less trouble getting to sleep. One study showed that learning mindfulness meditation techniques over six-weeks was more effective in improving sleep in people experiencing sleep problems than a six-week programme designed to help them improve sleep hygiene.
Meditating regularly will mean you are less susceptible to distractions and more able to focus your attention on one thing. Research has also shown that those who meditate regularly for as little as ten minutes a day are better able to think and focus under pressure than those who do not.
Research has shown that people who meditate regularly experience less anxiety than those who don’t, and mediation can also help individuals who have clinical levels of anxiety. One study showed that mindfulness – which involves aspects of meditation – helped 90% of those with clinical anxiety to feel less anxious and depressed.
As the process of meditation involves learning to objectively observe your thoughts before you react to them, this can help people learn to feel less stressed and anxious as they feel less affected by the things happening around them and more in control of their thoughts and reactions. Studies have also shown that mindfulness can actually reduce the number of neurons that fire in our brains in the amygdala, which is the part of the brain related to fear.
Another study showed that a period of mindfulness meditation not only reduced activity in the amygdala, but also increased activity of the prefrontal cortex, which is the area associated with regulating emotion. This type of activity in these areas is related to a reduction in stress, and suggests that meditation and mindfulness can help with stress management.
Meditation and mindfulness have been shown to improve creativity by improving an individual’s ability to think of novel approaches to problems, and to come up with ideas.
Those who meditate report feeling happier, more self-aware and more in control of their emotions than before they began meditating. This leads to an increase in general wellbeing, and can even improve relationships with others.
As meditation helps in being aware of your thoughts without necessarily reacting to them, it is useful in helping the treatment of addiction. Those who meditate are more able to resist cravings, focus on other things when experiencing cravings and are less susceptible to addiction in the first place as they are happier and less stressed, anxious and depressed.