Does your average day involve cramming a million activities into too few hours? Over time, this frantic to-do-list approach can cause you to feel overwhelmed and continually stressed. If you’re nodding your head in recognition, you might like to give mindfulness meditation a go. Not only does this ancient practice relax the body but it will empower you to slow down racing thoughts at will. You know the thoughts: this isn’t going well – my jeans are too tight – what should I cook for dinner tonight?
These days we spend most of our lives dwelling in either the future or the past. Rather than experience the present moment, we obsess about what has happened or what is to come. Mindfulness meditation encourages you to inhabit the right now. While this may sound simple, it is not easy and takes daily practice. If you can set aside ten to fifteen minutes every day for your mindfulness practice, you will see noticeable results.
“But wait,” your racing mind is saying, “I need those ten minutes a day for a million other activities!” So here are seven radical benefits of meditation if you need a little convincing that your ten minutes are going to be well-spent.
Though there are many different reasons that millions of people around the world meditate daily, the desire to sleep better at night is one of the most common reasons why people start in the first place. If you’ve ever struggled with insomnia, or have even struggled to sleep for a few nights in a row, you’ll understand how this chronic problem can affect your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. While it can be a struggle to address these adverse effects in your everyday life, the real challenge is addressing the cause of the problem: your difficulties drifting off, staying asleep, and falling back asleep if you happen to wake up.
Thanks to mindfulness meditation, many people who have suffered from lack of sleep and its attendant maladies have found that even after a few weeks of daily mediation. While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence for this finding, scholarly studies have borne this out numerous times as well. There is strong support within the scientific community that meditation has a profound effect on your ability to fall and stay asleep. And if a great night’s sleep isn’t reason enough to get your meditation cushion out, the knock-on effects of getting optimal sleep include health benefits such as weight loss and lowered risk of disease. Bonus!
Shed Those Pounds
Losing weight doesn’t have to be about fitting into that dress or looking ‘good’ in the mirror. It is unhealthy habits of thought such as comparing yourself to others, or past or future versions of yourself, that can reinforce the body-weight rollercoaster many of us are riding. Once you let go of self-criticism and learn to live in the moment, paying close attention to how your body feels, rather than how it looks, it is likely that food (as well as fad diets and weight loss trends) will start to exert less power over you, and you will end up eating what your body needs to stay healthy.
If you have weight to lose, weight loss will be a natural side-effect of mindfulness meditation, as you will be avoiding stress-eating or eating when you are not hungry. If you do not need to lose weight, or even if you need to gain a little weight to be healthy, mediation will help you tune in to your body so you can give it the nourishment it needs. Clinical studies have demonstrated that mindful eating techniques, a spin-off of mindful meditation, is effective in stabilizing the weight of obese people who had previously been gaining weight. Combined with interventions such as cognitive therapy, mindful eating practices are even more effective for weight loss because of the increased focus on the role that emotions play in food choices, portion control and regularity of eating.
Smash It At Work
Getting on with other people is vital in the work environment. Not only is the health of your work relationships crucial to your personal wellbeing, but your ability to listen to, empathise with and build trust among your colleagues is going to improve your leadership skills and single you out as an oasis of calm within your organisation. Mindfulness meditation has been proven to build empathy and make people more aware of and able to control their emotions. This has profound implications for communication and conflict management, both crucial leadership skills.
As with mindful eating, mindfulness meditation practices for leadership are even more powerful when combined with active efforts to improve your skills for the workplace. For example, if you’re a nurse, combining mindfulness practices with an executive DNP could help you push your career boundaries beyond what you thought was possible back when you allowed negative self-talk to dominate. Whatever field you’re in, seeking out a leadership mentor or enrolling in further leadership training can maximise the benefits of your at home meditation practice.
These days we live at a hundred miles an hour. While we may feel like we are coping, in fact, the break-neck pace of modern life wrecks havoc with our hormone levels, especially when it comes to that infamous stress hormone, cortisol. To minimise the negative effects of stress on our longevity and quality of life, it is vital that we learn to control how our bodies and minds react to the situations and tasks that we encounter every day. Meditation has been shown to be a powerful stress reliever, as it encourages us to notice the small (and not so small) changes in our physical and mental states that indicate stress and our reactions to it, helping us change our behaviour and thought-patterns. More significantly, mindfulness meditation can reduce your cortisol levels, which directly reduces your experience of stress.
Change Your Relationship to Anxiety
With the prevalence of anxiety skyrocketing in recent years, it’s safe to say that anxiety is the plague of the twenty-first century. In fact, it is so common, that many of us do not realise that we are anxious and that this condition is significantly impacting our ability to be productive, maintain healthy relationships, manage stress, and face the challenges that life throws at us. But the good news is that mindfulness meditation is a great way to manage anxiety. The even better news is that you don’t have to practice mindfulness meditation for very long before you start to see results. Believe it or not, even a single mindfulness meditation session can significantly reduce your anxiety. Researchers have found that even a single session of mindfulness meditation can result in reduced anxiety. Meditate on a regular schedule, and these results not only replicate day by day, but become more and more pronounced. And while it is pleasant to experience relief from anxiety, the health benefits are even more profound. By decreasing your anxiety, you’re reducing your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases as well.
Zero-In Your Attention
Gone are the days when the ability to multi-task was regarded as the height of competence. If you’re busy, the key to achieving your goals and getting around to everything you’d like to do in a day will come down to your ability to concentrate on one thing at a time. Focusing your attention on any one thing means you’re going to do a better job, and the fact that you’re engaged in the present moment rather than thinking about what’s coming next means you’ll enjoy yourself more as you work. But concentration is not a skill we are born with.
The mind is like a muscle that needs to be strengthened, and meditation can be seen as taking your brain to the gym. Research has shown that even a relatively short meditation career of less than a week can potentially improve your ability to concentrate for extended periods. You’ll also benefit from enhanced working memory and special processing. Combine your improved concentration with the reduced stress, anxiety and better sleep discussed above and you’re basically super-human!
Pain Management Techniques
Whether it’s through work, sports, disease, military deployment or simply the effects of old age, millions of people around the world deal with chronic pain every single day. It’s not surprising then that helping people manage their chronic pain is a strong focus of scientific research. Chronic pain is another arena in which simple mindfulness practices punch about their weight. For example, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a technique which harnesses the power of both yoga and mindfulness meditation, has become widely acknowledged as a powerful pain reduction therapy, improving sufferers’ quality of life by allowing them to do the things they need to do in order to live a normal life.
While mindfulness meditation does not offer to make your life less busy, being a little more present in everyday life can be a powerful way to slow down and evaluate the ways that you respond to stress. If you’re still on the fence, these benefits of mediation may be the extra motivation you need to build some adaptive mindfulness practices into your life.