The promises made about meditation can seem like a late-night infomercial. Does this practice really deliver calmer, more increased happiness and that heck-if-I-care attitude as advertised, or is meditation one of those gadgets people buy at a self-help seminar, only later to have buyer’s remorse? It turns out that all those promises are based on scientific research, but more importantly, on the experience of hundreds of thousands of meditators through the ages, who experienced a clear mind and an open heart just from sitting still for a while. Want to get happy? It’s time to meditate!
If you want to take meditation for your own test drive and find out if it really does bring more ease and happiness into your life, there are nine different benefits you can look forward to experiencing first hand:
1. Enjoy Better Sleep – It is evident by now that insomnia causes stress. Stress causes depression, and prolonged depression can cause a number of additional health concerns. By correcting poor sleep, you can not only stop this vicious downward cycle, but you can also look forward to a better mood, and even moments of calm focus. If you have a hard time calming your mind before bed and turning off that chatter that can have you staring at the red numbers of your clock until 3 a.m., try to start slowing down about an hour before you plan to retire. Read a little bit of a positive book, but make sure to turn off all electronic devices, including your cell, your computer, your television, etc. When you start to feel a little tired, close the book and begin focusing on your breath. You don’t have to make it a difficult task. If you start thinking of something else, simply bring your thoughts to your breath over and over again. This is one form of meditation. Practice like this for ten minutes or until you drift off to sleep. Brainwaves associated with deep sleep are created with this process, cancelling out excess beta waves that can keep us mentally agitated and stuck in insomnia.
2. You’re More Likely to Be Kind to Others and Yourself – Meditation produces a neuroendocrine response in your body that helps you to maintain feelings of compassion toward yourself that then extend out to others. Self-compassion has been associated with a variety of desirable outcomes, including reductions in perceived stress, burnout, depression and anxiety, as well as increases in life satisfaction. Meditation can also remove the stored fears that we have pushed down into our subconscious minds, and it allows a more natural, present-time response to life. This means we are more available to experience joy and spontaneous compassion, instead of living in constant dread due to past experiences.
3. You’ll Have Less Anxiety and Depression - Mindfulness-based therapy has been proven to be very effective at reducing depression and anxiety without having to resort to pharmaceutical drugs. Certain studies have even suggested that meditation is more powerful than Prozac and other drugs often prescribed for depression. Most medications attempt to boost neurotransmitter communication, but meditation does this naturally, causing whole-brain thinking, which is a phenomenon associated with better memory, clear focus and a feeling that all is right with the world. With meditation, you can boost both serotonin and norepinephrine to healthy "depression resistant" levels.
4. Get Ready for Higher Levels of Creativity – With modern tools that allow us to map the brain’s activity, we can see exactly how meditation affects our creativity. The qualities of insight and focus are not relegated to some elite class of geniuses, but can be had by everyone—everyone that meditates, that is. Meditation reduces activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain that produces fear. This frees us to try new things, and not to expect order at all times. This makes us ripe for coming up with creative solutions to problems and works of art that require a bit of courage to produce. Regular meditation also creates brainwaves associated with mystical experience, as well as super-powered originality.
5. Boost Your Immunity for Better Health – It’s hard to be happy when you are suffering from a sickness. Meditation boosts your body’s antibodies, the immune system’s soldier cells that scourge the blood and lymph for intruders like viruses and bad bacteria. Meditation also increases electrical activity in the prefrontal cortex, the right anterior insula and right hippocampus, which are all parts that control positive emotion, awareness and anxiety. These are also the areas of the brain which act as a command center for your immune system. When these areas are stimulated through meditative practices, the immune system functions much more effectively. By meditating on the regular, you can boost your immunity and enjoy year-round health. Now, that’s something to be overjoyed about!
6. Enjoy a Reduced Sense of Overwhelm – Who among us doesn’t feel downright overwhelmed by all that life demands of us? If even after truncating your to-do list doesn’t make life seem more manageable, you can simply practice meditation. This may seem like a counterintuitive move. After all, who wants to add ONE MORE THING to their list of chores? But, if given the chance, meditation can not only make you more effective at the things you do have to do, but it can help you let the stress caused by all those demands just roll off your back like rain. In fact, you can practice RAIN, to help give yourself a sense of love and compassion:
This becomes easier with even a ten-minute meditation session. The more often you practice, the less life will have a chance to overwhelm you, too.
7. Experience Less Negativity – That voice in your head that is constantly judging, criticizing and manipulating you to make decisions out of fear, instead of love—it can be silenced, or at least quieted temporarily. A one-two punch to those negative thoughts that can cause depression and anxiety, interfering with your sense of peace and happiness, is this combo: meditation and a few days of cardiovascular exercise two to three times a week. This combination was found to reduce negativity by 40 percent by behavioral psychologists at Rutgers University.
8. Have More A-Ha Moments – Whether you’ve come to that rock-and-the hard place moment concerning your finances, your relationships, your occupation or a simple mid-life crisis, meditation can help you see things more clearly, opening up those a-ha moments characteristic of finding a solution ‘from thin air’ for problems that don’t seem to have any solution. Meditation opens neural networks (pathways in the brain) that were formerly dormant or simply not pulling their load. Just like a jazz musician who comes up with new melodies on the spot, you’ll be able to ‘riff’ on life, instead of wallowing in its seemingly unsolvable conundrums.
9. Realize Greater Awe and Wonder – You wouldn’t think that scientists could measure awe and wonder, let alone if it were being increased by practices like meditation, but it’s been done—several times. There is a veritable cornucopia of information proving that meditation creates a sense of awe and wonder within us. We may see a cloud passing across the sky, or the leaves blowing in the wind in a whole new way, appreciating life in its tiniest, most beautiful details. Focused attention in meditation creates a change in our cognitive processes. No longer do we see the world as mundane, but as an awe-inspiring set of endless possibilities.