Stress is a contributor to almost every ailment imaginable, from thyroid disorders to digestive issues to skin conditions. Reducing stress is so important but it’s often difficult for people to commit to a stress-reduction practice like meditation, probably because stress-reduction sometimes seem vague compared with changing your diet, supplements, or exercise routine.
Meditation as a form of stress-reduction has actually been studied in many randomized clinical trials that show concrete, measurable benefits. And, amazingly you can reap most of these benefits in just 10-20 minutes per day!
The two types of meditation most frequently studied are transcendental meditation and mindfulness meditation. The main difference between the two is that with transcendental meditation, you focus on a mantra that you repeat in your head, whereas with mindfulness meditation, you typically focus on your breath. The general idea with both is to quiet the mind and develop greater awareness of your thoughts, feelings and sensations.
Here are the top four reasons you should start meditating TODAY:
- Productivity and Focus – After meditating regularly for two years I have noticed meditation helps tremendously in boosting productivity and improving focus. There is convincing evidence that meditation actually causes physical changes in the gray and white matter of the brain, particularly regions responsible for awareness, emotional regulation and memory. By meditating, you are actually re-wiring your brain to be more effective and efficient.
- Heart Health – The benefits of meditation aren’t just mental. Several randomized controlled trials have shown significant decreases in blood pressure in participants who regularly meditate. This is so important because high blood pressure is the single greatest risk factor for heart attack.
- Increased Happiness and Decreased Stress – One of the more widely acknowledged benefits of meditation is improvement in mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.
- Better Sleep – Lack of sleep is a major contributor to chronic disease. Even when people have time to get adequate sleep, they often can’t fall asleep because their brains are still in high-gear. Good sleep hygiene certainly helps, but by training your brain through meditation to let go of passing thoughts instead of pursuing them, you’ll make it far easier to “turn off” your brain when it’s time to sleep.
The cool thing about meditation is that you really don’t need a huge list of clinical trials to assess its safety and prove that it works. It’s not a drug. There are no side-effects. It doesn’t cost money. So you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
There are tons of free resources online for getting started with meditation. Lifehacker has some helpful information, and the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center has a free meditation podcast with guided weekly meditations. I also like the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, and some people have found apps like Headspace to be helpful. Check them out and see what works for you!