Previously published in IKAPIA Magazine Volume 40, Number 150, Spring 2018
There is no escaping it.
The fact is, the wellness and mindfulness movements are upon us because, in general, we need them. We hear all the buzz, but aren’t always sure about what it means or that we understand the benefits. And, more often than not the promise of an improved life seems all too much like hype and serves as a deterrent to taking the time to slow down and do nothing.
I get it. I was there once too.
The truth is, there are benefits to meditation and they are profound. But, they require time, patience and practice; things many of us are short on and not always inclined to make space for in our already over-scheduled and packed lives. We have become an instant gratification society. And, why not? So much can happen and unfold in an instant that we don’t always have to be patient to get what we want.
Meditation offers the opposite. In mediation we find stillness, a sense of slowing down, pairing down and many times a sense of awkwardness and some minor discomfort, as sensations we are not accustomed to move through our physical bodies. And, while there isn’t likely going to be a tremendous epiphany or overall sense of wow, now life makes sense and I’m healed of my long list of stress-induced ailments these sensations are the first signs that meditation is starting to become a beneficial practice. But, this is just the beginning, true transformations unfold slowly, subtly and deeply.
While there are numerous lists describing the benefits of meditation, in my practices, personal and professional, I have observed the first benefit comes from slowing down. Even just a 5 minute reset in the middle of the afternoon with a cup of tea and a couple of deep breaths, the phone turned off, your back to your computer, and the time you give yourself to simply stop multi-tasking, talking, doing, allows the mind to rest. The body slows down and a sense of calm generally fills your being. Likely, your mood will improve, as well.
The second benefit of meditation, noticing that you are better able to stay calm and focused throughout your day and during life events, usually starts to unfold after a few days or weeks of consistent 10-15 minute practices. This is because the ongoing practice of meditation increases the grey matter in the brain which effects areas involving perspective, emotional regulation, focus, learning and self-awareness.
The third benefit many start to recognize after a regular practice of mediation is better sleep. You read that right! You don’t necessarilarly need sleep aids to cure your insomnia. Likely the practice of meditation can help you gain a good night’s sleep. Right before bed I turn on a guided meditation through a free phone app called Insight Timer and no matter the state of my world, I am able to drift off to a nice long sleep in minutes. (There are many free meditation apps out there and I recommend giving them a try and find one you like).
The fourth benefit of meditation typically leans toward improved health. Study after study demonstrate as we slow down, improve focus (and what we focus on), increase our length and quality of sleep, our health tends to improve. Regular practices of meditation can lead to overall reduced blood pressure, pain reduction, lowered stress and anxiety levels, better choices in how we nourish ourselves through food, thoughts and actions due to heightened awareness of our needs. All of these things lead to better overall health, prevention of larger, more serious health issues and give us the potential for a longer life. Simply sitting in meditation, particularly a series of guided meditations using visualizations, can truly make all the difference in our lives no matter the age. Free apps and local yoga studios often have guided meditations with visualizations on a variety of themes. Give yourself permission to take a little time to explore and find what works for you.
The mind is a powerful thing and as we take a moment to unplug, unwind, sit and listen to our breath and observe the sensations in our bodies, the innate wisdom of each individual begins to unfold. We learn that a little time spent on ourselves makes us better able to define our needs and inspirations, which, in turn allows us to better serve others. And, this is the true benefit of meditation. Though it is not yet scientifically proven, I think you will agree with me, when we are working from a place of focused calm, true to our instincts and inspirations we simply are better at whatever it is we do. Bringing out our best and the best in others … that is the true gift of meditation.