By Natalie, Sustainable Materials Manager and Toad’s resident meditation expert.
In its simplest form, meditation is the process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts. A meditation practice depends on the individual and can take many forms. Anything done with complete mindfulness and intention can become a form of meditation.
I’ve found that the swath of meditation benefits are all interconnected. For example, if I’m less stressed, I sleep better and wake up happier and more focused. Here are some other benefits of meditation, according to the experts (and corroborated by me!):
1. It can reduce stress and all of the negative side effects of stress. No more “Sunday Scaries.”
2. It improves your sleep by helping you control your ability to relax and turn off the racing thoughts in your brain.
3. It helps control anxiety, which helps keep your stress down (Seeing a pattern yet?).
4. It promotes emotional health and decreases symptoms of depression.
5. It enhances self-awareness and grows a stronger sense of self and confidence.
6. It can lengthen your attention span, increase your ability to focus, and may even reduce effects of age-related memory loss.
7. It can increase your compassion toward others and yourself by helping you focus on the ability to be kind and forgive (Like forgiving your mother for gifting your dog a squeaky toy...).
8. It can help fight addictions. Trying to give up sugar this year? Meditation might be your secret weapon.
9. It helps control pain and can even raise pain tolerance levels (Time to get that tattoo!).
10. It can lower blood pressure and boost your immune system.
The Physical Benefits of Meditation
Your body loves meditation. Study after study has found that the benefits of the mind/body connection have a lasting impact on your overall physical health. The benefits of meditation and yoga, for instance, is that they help send breath to your muscles which increases your flexibility, which decreases your chance for injury.
Meditation and running and meditation and swimming have a similar effect. When you exercise at a low-impact, consistent pace with intention, your body and mind can align to enter a state of flow – or being “in the zone.” So think of meditating like a runner’s high that you can tap into at any time.
Meditation also benefits the brain by strengthening your neural connections. When you practice the skill of mindfulness, you’re also sharpening your willpower. You can increase your attention span, manage your stress better, and master self-control.
Meditation can actually alter your brain structure – in a good way. Studies have found that meditation adds wrinkles to your cortex – the outer layer of your brain that helps us think critically and introspectively (more wrinkles = better problem solving). It can also increase the volume and density of the hippocampus – the area in the brain that helps us with our memory. Here’s a great Harvard Gazette article on the brain science behind mindfulness.
How to Meditate
This is a complex question, but luckily there are many types of meditation and many ways to incorporate a meditation practice into your life. We’ll cover some of the most basic types of meditation.
Mindfulness meditation – Keeping your attentions fixed on your thoughts and physical sensations in the present moment. This is great for meditation before bed – or in bed!
Guided meditation – Exercises guided by an instructor (or an app) to walk you through various techniques and breath work.
Body scan meditation – a guided meditation meant to sync body and mind by observing the state of your body from the crown of your head to the tips of your toes.
Transcendental meditation – this is the champagne of meditations. It’s a complex practice that involves multiple sessions per day using various mindfulness and mystical techniques – and it’s technically only taught by specialized instructors and comes with a price tag.
Loving kindness meditation – directing positive energy, compassion and goodwill toward ourselves and then toward others.
Yoga meditation – not high-intensity work-out yoga, more slow and intentional yoga designed to strengthen the nervous system. Yoga Nidra and Kundalini yoga are common forms. Extended savasana (“corpse pose”) is a founding principle of Yoga meditation.
Moving meditation – just like it sounds: keep it moving! Tai Chi, walking or gentle hiking are all forms of moving meditations.
Mantra meditation – focusing your mind through repetition. It’s not an affirmation, more of a repetition of sounds to deepen breathing and sense of peace. “Om” is just the beginning!
There are so many types of mediations, so try a few versions and find the one that feels right for you. And remember: what’s right might vary from day to day. I integrate all kinds of meditation into my life, depending on what I need or what my schedule allows.
Start Your Practice
The most important part of meditation is that you aren’t forcing it. You don’t need to practice meditation 3 times a day – even meditating for 20 minutes a day might be too much at this point. So start with a small goal – 5-minutes of mindfulness or a quick morning breathing exercise – and work your way up.
Check out my blog on meditation techniques for beginners for some quick pointers for getting started!