Mindfulness practices are becoming increasingly popular and widely recommended as something to incorporate into your wellness routine.
They can also come with the misconception of having to add yet another item to the never-ending to-do list. But, you really don't need to meditate for an hour a day to feel the positive effects; in fact, starting with just 5-10 minutes of daily meditative practice has widespread benefits when it comes to your health and well-being — in both the mind and the body.
But how does that work? And why is meditation important? Let's take a closer look.
Meditation is an ancient practice that dates back thousands of years. The term itself refers to a variety of practices that focus on the integration of the mind and body; different forms and methods are used to calm the mind, increase focus and concentration, reduce stress, and enhance overall emotional and physical well-being. There are many forms of meditation to explore, it is simple, inexpensive and doesn't require any equipment making it accessible to everyone.
So, why is meditation important? Because it can quite literally change your brain! Meditation may help improve brain function by creating more neural connections that are also stronger. Research has shown that people who regularly meditate have differences in brain structure -- usually seen in brain tissue that is denser or certain areas of the brain that are larger; this can be a sign of the increased neuron activity that takes place during meditation. It can also improve your outlook on life, lift your mood and better support nervousness or high levels of stress. And since your mind and body are so intricately connected, practicing meditation may boost your physical health too.
Many research studies have answered the question "Why is meditation important?" When you take the time to quieten your mind and restore inner calmness through meditative practices, it helps calm your nervous system, putting it back into a parasympathetic "rest and digest" state. This is an essential part of restoring balance after high stress or danger that triggers the sympathetic nervous system into "fight or flight" mode. In the parasympathetic state, stress hormone levels lower back down, heart rate and blood flow decrease, breathing rate slows and feelings of stress or anxiousness can feel lessened.
With increased stressors in our daily lives, persistent triggers of the stress response can lead to ongoing elevated levels of cortisol. This can create an imbalance over time as the body becomes less effective at returning to healthier levels of stress. Additionally, chronic stress can also be linked to:
Incorporating meditative practice can help support the body to better manage stress and prevent the more serious effects of chronic stress.
Studies have also shown how meditation can help improve attention and productivity. During one type of meditative practice, an affirmation or mantra can be used to direct your thoughts, like "today is going to be a productive day" or "I am focused and calm." And the best part? It's been shown that just a brief 10 minutes of daily meditation can be beneficial, increasing focused attention and working memory.
Practicing a short meditation during your lunch break can help give you an energy boost and support the afternoon pick-me-up we all seem to need. And if meditation works for you there are other restorative practices to explore that also calm the nervous system, like:
Yoga or chi gong
Time in nature and the sunshine
Spending time with (and hugging) a loved one who makes you feel calm and safe
Begin with just 5 to 10 minutes: this is enough time to start getting used to the new practice but not so long that you may lose interest or feel overwhelmed to fit it in.
Practice consistency: commit to 7, 14 or 21 days. Write down how you feel before or after or both, to connect with the differences in your emotional state as it becomes more familiar.
Explore different meditation forms and methods: there are many resources widely available - especially if you are new to it. This is where guided meditation sessions can be an easy introduction to get you started.
If you find yourself asking "why is meditation important again?" after just a few sessions, remember that any new behavior requires consistent practice to find the method that works best for you, and to really start to experience the benefits. Be patient. You may have days where you mind feels jumbled, or you find it harder to quieten your thoughts -- that's OK! Keep going. It's likely that over time, each session should get more enjoyable and beneficial.
There are many actitivites that are helping to revolutionize relaxation by turning down increased brain wave activity that can stress us out. Meditation is only one of many restorative practices. Take a listen to this podcast about a new field of study referred to as Non Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR)to learn how just 10-minutes of NSDR is helping people rejuvenate their body and mind.