For most of us it feels like there are just not enough hours in a day and not enough days in a week to get things done. The forty-hour work week is some far away, hazy memory. It is hard to find the time for all the things we have to do, let alone the things we want to do like to unwind with our family and friends. The lack of space and time for self-care can create stress, and stress, if not taken care of early enough, can develop into depression and disease.
With so much to do and so little time, you naturally may wonder if it’s worth the effort to make space for meditation. Especially in the beginning, when your mind tends to jump from to-do lists to unfinished business and back again, simply sitting can feel painfully unproductive and make you feel even guilty about “not doing anything.” So, now could be a good time to learn a little bit about what happens when you’ve been meditating for a long time.
A few facts you may not know about meditation:
Meditation benefits are almost immediate
The numerous health benefits that result from meditation are another great reason to adopt the practice. Certain benefits can start making themselves felt very quickly after people start sitting. A sense of calmness and peace of mind are common experiences, even if this feeling is fleeting and subtle.
Some people worry that meditation is having the opposite effect because their minds seem busier than ever. Our advice: stick with it, and keep your sessions short. Meditation isn’t about wiping the slate of your mind clean, it’s about being aware of what appears there. And you’re a step ahead: you’re already noticing how busy the mind can be.
Meditation makes you happier and increases compassion
Increased levels of contentment and compassion are among the most desirable long-term benefits of meditation. People who meditate generally lead happier lives than those who don’t. Meditation is known to enhance the flow of constructive thoughts and positive emotions. Even a few minutes spent meditating regularly can make a big difference. Scientific evidence supports this claim: extensive studies were conducted on a group of Buddhist monks as they were meditating. The pre-frontal cortex of the monks’ brains (the part associated with happiness) was found to be extra active.
Your ability to exhibit true compassion isn’t based on your situation but rather on your complete openness. Compassion is a remarkable trait that’s hard-wired into all of us. Meditation will give you the tools you need to dig deep and access the happiness and compassion that await discovery within. Looking to external sources for comfort and well-being is a deeply ingrained habit, but if you meditate regularly, you’ll surely come to agree that true happiness comes from within.
Meditation enhances memory, concentration and perception
Apart from enhancing your happiness and improving your overall well-being, meditation also helps your memory stay sharp and your concentration remain steady. With mindfulness meditation, you train yourself to remain aware of the present moment in a non-judgemental manner. Consequently, distractions are less and less likely to sweep you away.
If you’re curious about what happens when you meditate for a long time, consider the scientific studies involving Buddhist monks and possibly borrow a leaf from them. A good number of Buddhist monks and lay practitioners have perfected the art of meditation over many years. Studies conducted on some of the monks highlight the long-term effects of meditation on the brain. They showed signs of elevated brain activity within the cerebral regions associated with relaxation, happiness, concentration, self-awareness, and other positive emotions and qualities. Conversely, the brain areas responsible for stress and anxiety were less developed. Just one more reason why you should meditate.
Meditation improves alertness and ability to focus
We all need to be able to focus in order to carry out our different responsibilities. Any activity that is performed without the proper focus and attention is bound to produce lesser results. It’s hard to do a good job when you’re stressed and exhausted, and even more so when you can’t concentrate on the task at hand. At work, factors like stress and exhaustion can lead to a lack of discernment and mistakes. Happily, studies have shown that one of the long-term effects of meditation is improved concentration. Experts now recommend mindfulness meditation to help calm the mind and increase our ability to remain alert. Luckily, many of our everyday activities at home or at work are fertile ground for the practice of mindfulness. Instead of multitasking, try picking one job or activity and apply yourself to it. With practice, this will improve your productivity and give your intelligence and creativity plenty of space to express themselves.
Meditation helps you manage anxiety, stress and depression
The transformative potential of meditation should not be underestimated. Several studies have proven that meditation has physiological effects on the brain. For example, researchers found that the part of the brain that regulates stress and anxiety shrinks when meditation is practiced consistently. By focusing on moment-by-moment experiences, people who meditate are training the mind to remain calm, even in stressful situations. Along with this, they also experience significantly less anxiety due to uncertainty about the future.
Meditation helps you fall asleep
Insomnia is a troubling condition – everybody dreads a sleepless night. Sadly, about a third of the population suffers from some form of sleep deprivation, whether occasional or chronic. If you’re one of those unfortunate people who stare at the ceiling and count sheep all night to no avail, meditation just might be a solution.
Studies have shown that people who practice meditation report improved sleep. It’s one of the most wholesome and best-appreciated long-term benefits that meditation provides. Medical professionals are now encouraging patients who suffer from insomnia and similar sleep disorders to try different techniques, especially certain forms of guided meditation, to help manage their symptoms. The American Journal of Medicine once reported on a study that aimed to determine the effects of meditation on insomniacs. The results were incredible – all of the patients involved in the study reported improved sleep quality, and 91% reduced their sleeping pill intake or stopped using them altogether.
An article in the Harvard Health Blog confirms that meditation triggers the relaxation response – which is why some people actually have the opposite problem: they fall asleep as soon as they begin to meditate!
Meditation creates a healthier immune system
Just as they calm the mind, long-term effects of meditation also benefit the entire body. Some studies have indicated that people who practice meditation produce a higher number of antibodies more rapidly than those who don’t. More antibodies means you’ll fight diseases more effectively – pathogens will be detected and eliminated with much more efficiency. So meditation not only improves your state of mind, it also strengthens your body’s disease-fighting mechanisms. A healthy body is one reflection of a peaceful mind.
Meditation helps your body to heal and recover faster
When you are in stress, your body thinks you are in danger and it reallocates the necessary energy from the normal daily healing and recovering systems to the ones that enables you to flee or fight. This means that you are not digesting food, you are not healing wounds, there is no nail or hair growing. All this is not necessary when you need to run or fight. But you will have extra adrenaline, your heart will pump blood faster to your muscles, you will breathe faster for more oxygen in your blood and many other things you need to run or fight.
When you meditate, you are relaxing, telling your body that you are safe and then your body will do all the things you need to keep your body in the best condition to have a long healthy life.
You do not need to be a religious person to meditate
Meditation can benefit everyone. It is beyond doctrine: it’s all about developing calmness, practicing awareness and de-cluttering the mind. And although contemplation is a key component of most world religions, you don’t have to be part of a religion to practice meditation. This is good news for many people who define themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”
So, when you aspire to a better quality of life, meditation is the way to go. And no, your meditation practice won’t take up all of your free time – even sitting for 5 minutes a day already can improve your cognition and reduce anxiety and depression. Take advantage of the short- and long-term benefits of meditation by starting to practice today.
Stay tuned for our blog next week in which we will give you some tips on how to meditate.
And if you have some ideas or other benefits of Meditation, please share them with our community on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dawncady.mindsetcoach/