Most people know that meditation is relaxing, it calms the mind providing us with a sense of peace. We also might have a suspicion that it does more than that for us, but we don’t quite know what. There are a multitude of both direct and indirect benefits from a regular meditation and some are quite surprising. Some of the rewards are mental, some physical and some spiritual. This blog is going to explain 10 (and yes there are even more!) of the lesser known benefits. However, before we begin it is worth going over a few of the myths people might have regarding meditation:
- If my mind is not empty I am not meditating: Not true, in fact, when you start meditating, you'll find it’s quite busy. The trick is not to pay attention to the thoughts.
- I have to sit in lotus position: Nope, you can sit in a chair or on the couch; you can even meditate whilst walking, running or doing the dishes.
- If it is not for half an hour or more it is not worth it. Again, no. Shorter sessions are just as effective; start with 5 or 10 minutes.
Having said that there is one caveat, the benefits listed below are best experienced if you have a regular meditation practice. It’s not about the length of a session, it is about the frequency, so daily 5-10 minutes sessions are better than one ½ hour session per week. Now, without further ado, let’s get into the benefits.
1. It Strengthens your Immune and Cardiovascular Systems
Meditation is relaxing, which obviously is a benefit because it makes you feel great. Relaxation also has knock-on effects at a physical level. One is that is strengthens your immune system by stimulating blood flow which reduces the amount of stress-related chemicals in your body. It also helps the body eliminate free radicals, which are known to cause cellular damage. The second benefit is that the increased blood flow promotes cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure and increasing exercise capacity. It also slows the heart rate and pace of breathing which contributes to a healthier cardiovascular system.
2. It Improves your Sex Life
Yes, it’s true and a big WooHoo! There are many ways meditation can improve your sex life because it helps to ‘bring you back into your body’. This is vital to understanding the potential pleasure sex has in store for you. If you remain in the body and are open and curious, you are more likely to embrace the sensations occurring during sex. It also helps you stay in the moment…no thinking about the shopping list, crack in the ceiling or work. When you can be fully in the moment, not worrying about the end game you can totally give yourself up to what you are experiencing. Meditation also teaches you to feel without judgment, you don’t have to feel guilty, embarrassed or shame, allow yourself to feel the pleasurable feelings. Lastly, meditation teaches you to breathe, deeply and fully. If you can do this during sex, it changes the way you experience pleasure i.e. you won’t tense up or take shorter breathes when you climax, thus intensifying the feelings and expanding your pleasure.
3. It Reverses Ageing at the Cellular Level
OH.MY.GOD! What?? Meditation can halt the cruel passage of time? Well, yes...and here’s how. Telomeres are sequences of DNA at the end of chromosomes, the length of telomeres (made up of a repetitive sequence of DNA), determine how gracefully we will age. As we age and our cells divide, our telomeres get shorter, weakening their structural integrity which can tell cells to stop dividing and die, ageing your appearance. Meditators tend to have much higher levels of the telomerase enzyme which builds the length and strength of telomeres. In the ground breaking Shamatha Project research, telomerase activity was about one-third higher in the white blood cells of participants who had completed 3 months of meditating Vs the control group (who didn’t meditate).
4. It Improves Creativity
Researchers have found that meditation can increase the connections and density in the areas of the brain that form our creativity. David Lynch, arguably one of the most creative people of our time, is a 40 year devotee of Transcendental Meditation. He likens ideas to fish: "If you want to catch a little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you've got to go deeper." Lynch believes that Transcendental Meditation helps him to access a deeper level of consciousness...allowing him to find the big fish.
5. It improves Stress-related Conditions
Meditation can help with all auto-immune diseases, or stress-related conditions (inflammatory), such as IBS, arthritis, asthma and skin conditions. Obviously meditation alone cannot stop these conditions occurring or reverse them completely. But it plays a big role in lessening the impact, the mind and body are deeply connected. Stress = a physiological reaction, which can negatively impact our health over the long term.
6. It Enhances Self-confidence
Our self-acceptance hinges on our self-confidence which is built on the stories we believe about ourselves. Meditation helps you to recognise your negative thought patterns and feelings you may have towards yourself, because you practice simply noticing them in the moment. This gives you the tools (over time) to be able to handle this handle negative internal dialogue outside of your meditation sessions. There may also be physiological factors that add to this improved self-confidence: Meditation increases the levels of serotonin in the body, which is a neurotransmitter which regulates your mood.
7. Increases your Pain Threshold
Many studies have shown that meditation can reduce a person’s response to pain. A study conducted by Fadel Zeidan in April 2011 took 15 healthy volunteers and performed MRI scans of their brains. Then they were taught mindfulness meditation. Researchers then scanned the volunteers again whilst inducing pain. Once while not meditating, and another time while meditating. The results were that the volunteers showed a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity ratings during meditation when compared with non-meditation. This is simply mind boggling and may be especially beneficial for individuals with chronic injuries, migraines, fibromyalgia or other conditions in which regular discomfort is experienced.
8. It Improves Concentration
Basically meditation is concentration, you focus on your breath, then you notice when you get caught up in thoughts, and then you return your concentration to our breath. This is a transferrable skill, when your attention wanders during work or everyday tasks, you can notice this and then shift your attention back to the task at hand.
9. Increases Compassion
How do people stay calm, kind and compassionate, even in the face of great adversity and horror? Take the Dalai Lama for example, he has been exiled and there is violence tearing apart his homeland? The key is meditation, as it stimulates the parts of the brain that are involved in the response to other people’s pain, increasing empathy.
10. It Makes you Smarter!
A UCLA study published in March 2012 in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification (folding) of the brain's cortex than people who don't meditate. This means that they are able to process information faster than people who don’t meditate. Other studies have shown that it increases the connections between the different regions of the brain which improves the way the brain functions.
So what do you think now? Are you surprised by the types of benefits of a regular mediation practice? Have we given you a little more motivation to start? If you are still a bit hesitant...don’t worry; we have a great blog with easy tips to get you started on the road to meditation...or you can always just book into one of our classes and let Stu or Maria guide you through a wonderful meditation session.
Western Wellness Team
(Your friendly neighbourhood yogis)