Updated: Aug 13, 2020
In around 1,000 words, I sum up some of the more common benefits that arise out of a regular meditation practice, covering the mental, physical and spiritual benefits that a meditation practice may be able to offer to you over time.
Mindfulness has the potential to improve the quality of life
I can confidently say that the daily practice of meditation and mindfulness has the potential to enhance the quality of one’s life through improving overall mental health and wellbeing, because it has done this for not only myself, but many people across the planet. Now, of course this seems like a rather tall statement, but this is something myself and many people would agree with, providing the person practicing meditation were to receive the right guidance, support, and finding a technique that works for them.
It is a practice that has been around for thousands of years but has lived to see the 21st century because it simply works. We have all heard of the word ‘meditation’, but only an increasing handful have ventured into meditation as a daily practice, revealing the range of benefits that meditation has to offer all of us; such as improved mental and emotional wellbeing, physical health, and spiritual wellbeing. I will be covering just the surface of each of these points to highlight what meditation has to offer. Who knew that mindfulness and meditation is something government and privately funded healthcare systems all over the world such as the NHS are offering to individuals? This is because a surge in research into the topic has shown that there are powerful benefits that anyone can experience from just 15 minutes of this daily practice.
As meditation is the practice of working with the mind, the benefits we start to notice through a daily practice, is how our mental and emotional state begins to experience positive changes. These include, but are not limited to; stress reduction and better stress management, reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety and panic disorders, improved focus and concentration, better memory, improved productivity, heightened self-awareness, improved self-esteem, a deeper connection with our emotional and mental tendencies, and overall, feeling happier. During meditation, we are learning how to become more aware of our mental experience and, as a result of this, we become more emotionally intellectual and self-aware, which further helps us to deal with challenging or difficult emotions, experiences and thoughts. Remember, meditation isn’t about suppressing thoughts, but building a non-judgemental, accepting, and positive approach to them.
Because meditation is a lot about working with the mind, it is important that someone looking to try meditation is to seek guidance from someone who is experienced and qualified to teach this. Some of us, including myself, decide to take up a mindfulness practice of some kind because we may be having some challenging or difficult thoughts, and whilst meditation can offer us some useful tools to navigate through these challenging thoughts or emotions, it takes a lot of patience, realistic expectations of our self and our practice (self-awareness), acceptance, but also a qualified individual who is able to offer the right techniques and approaches. Otherwise, this can lead to a difficult experience in meditation, or could leave someone leaving a little more uneasy or stressed than beforehand. Of course, this is generally very uncommon, but the way I like to describe it is when going to the gym or starting a workout plan; we know it offers many benefits and can help us in some way, but if we don't find a qualified trainer or PT, we may risk damaging muscles, targeting the wrong areas, or even longer-term injury.
These benefits are experienced slightly differently for everyone, and some, slightly more than others on occasions, however what we do know, is that these are only just a few of the many emotional and mental benefits that research has outlined and illustrated to us. The reason why these are experienced fully as a result of having a daily practice, as opposed to a one-off meditation here and there, is because meditation is a practice that involves patiently and diligently training the mind. This relates to something referred to as ‘neural plasticity’ in science, which translates to the brains ability to adapt and create new habits and neural pathways as a result of a regular experience (i.e. meditation) – we are literally hard-wiring ourselves for habits leading to happiness.
That information alone is pretty exciting, right? It gets better…
Aside from the mental and emotional benefits of meditation, many people don’t know that meditation also provides many benefits on a physical level, too. Some of the most powerful physical benefits of meditation are, but again, not limited to; lower blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease, improved immune system functioning, improved digestion, better sleep, reduced aging, lower cholesterol, slower breathing, asthma/breathing control and pain management.
The first of the physical benefits we start to notice is how the quality of our sleep improves. This is because, although when we are in meditation, we are practicing mental alertness, we are also encouraging physical relaxation and learning how to ease areas of tension and restlessness in the body. Additionally, a calmer mind creates space for us to achieve better quality rest, physically and mentally. This introduces the observation of ‘quality over quantity’ when we think about our sleep. As someone who has suffered from sleep difficulties, meditation has shown me that it isn’t about always getting more sleep, but better-quality sleep, and feeling more rested in the morning.
Another exciting factor, for many, is that meditation also helps to slow down the ageing process! One of the biggest contributors to ageing is stress and stress chemicals that are released in the body. The body’s primitive response to stress is rooted in a part of the brain called the Amygdala, which is responsible for engaging the fight or flight response and releasing stress chemicals in the body, which, in excess (i.e. through regular experiences with stress and anxiety) can produce a harmful amount of stress chemicals such as cortisol. Meditation practice helps us to become less stressed, mentally and physically, which in turn, contributes to better weight regulation and slowing down the ageing process.
The other lifestyle factor that meditation contributes benefits to, is our spiritual wellbeing. The word spiritual, for most people, will evoke many connotations, and often present to us that being ‘spiritual’ is only for certain people (I think many people probably have an idea of what they think a spiritual person might look like; perhaps someone religious, a hippie, or someone wearing a very colourful tie-dye t-shirt), but in reality, the simple fact that we are human beings means that we contain spiritual qualities.
Spirituality is the experience or feeling of connection and concern for others beyond a physical or inherently mental perspective, and therefore, I think when we look at it from this perspective, we can all see that we have at least some subtle spiritual qualities. Meditation helps us feel more connected with ourselves, connected to others, and generates a heightened state of awareness over the human condition and the human experience. This heightened sense of awareness and connection not only generates a deeper insight, acceptance and understanding of ourselves, our choices and our lifestyle, but it also increases the feeling of being more centred, grounded, compassionate, confident and peaceful.
When we have a conversation with someone and sometimes begin to feel that warmth in our chest (or heart), begin to feel happier and deeply present in our situation, this is a result of the hormone, oxytocin, a hormone responsible for social connection, bonding, and unconditional love. That’s also spirituality.
Just this brief covering on how the daily practice of meditation provides us with many different benefits, it certainly reveals that meditation does in fact have something to offer each and every one of us, and that regardless of whether we have never practiced meditation before, or we have been practicing meditation for years, this simple and effective practice is a practice that keeps on giving, only at the expense of a few moments of mindfulness and meditation each day.
In these difficult times we are all facing in our own ways, one thing many of us can admit to, is that we are dealing with challenging emotions and thoughts, and many of us are now faced with more time on our hands than ever, and others, working harder than ever. This in mind, and given you now have a better understanding on how meditation can positively and significantly contribute to mental and physical health and wellbeing for everyone, take this as an opportunity to practice just 15 minutes of mindfulness and meditation each day.
To put that into perspective, 15 minutes of meditation equates to approximately 1% of the 24 hours we are gifted each and every day.