Many meditation health benefits have a common denominator
Beyond serenity: the health benefits of meditation
Many of us associate meditation with serenity and mental focus. But meditation comes with a number of very convincing health perks as well. For some practitioners these may be fringe benefits, but for others they may be the most compelling reason to sit down and practice. From better sleep to sharper, more focused brain functioning, heart health to lowered blood pressure, there are a myriad of ways that mindfulness and awareness meditation can support mind and body. One of the best-researched outcomes of a regular mindfulness practice is stress reduction. Could this be the key to the other health benefits?
Far-reaching impacts of stress reduction
The effects of mindfulness on the brain and overall health has become a very popular research topic in recent decades. Indeed, there are so many studies out there that it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. In an article published in the Annual Review of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University’s J. David Creswell takes a close look at the results of some of the better-organized studies. One of the many insightful conclusions presented in this comprehensive article is that many of the health benefits – both mental and physical – attributed to mindfulness practice are related to stress reduction.
The article points to chronic pain symptom reduction, improved immunity, disease-specific outcomes and more wholesome health behaviors as all being more or less closely related to stress management. In addition to physical benefits, mindfulness meditation and mindfulness-based interventions have been shown to reduce the intensity of depression and anxiety and prevent depression relapse.
How does it work? In his article, Creswell explains that, “Mindfulness interventions aim to foster an open and accepting awareness of one’s thoughts and feelings, including an observant attitude toward the thought patterns and body experiences that occur when one feels acutely anxious or depressed. This process of turning attention and awareness toward these experiences has been posited to help reduce the experiential avoidance, self-judgment, and rumination that are often triggered by acute depression and anxiety.”
Mind and body work together
We’ve all noticed that when our mind is contented, we are less likely to be preoccupied by everyday aches and pains. Meditation actually helps with a healthy body. It teaches us that we can observe sensations, thoughts and emotions and not letting the mind get carried away by them. Being able to maintain serenity and focus when things are difficult is a great training in contentedness and well-being. When we are able to observe anxiety as it arises and let it pass by, that’s half the battle won.
In his blog Benefits of Meditation for Mind and Body, world-renowned meditation master Trungram Gyalwa explains that mindfulness cuts through agitation, which in turn cuts through mind’s tendency to create big problems from small disturbances. When we don’t spend so much energy focusing on every little thing that’s wrong and how it could get worse, we have all the space we need to recognize what’s right with our lives. Because it helps us connect with the fullness of the here and now, meditation is a great ally for a mind in search of well-being.
Health beyond the individual
There’s a Tibetan saying that the mind is like a monarch and body and speech are the monarch’s servants. We usually think of health in terms of our individual selves, but in a greater sense, health is related to balance: the health of the family unit, society and environment are examples of health beyond the individual. Each one of us contributes to the health or balance of the big picture in different ways, but every one of those contributions has the same starting point: the mind. Our mind determines what we say and do, and, to a certain extent, our actions determine the health and well-being of the world around us.
Yet another convincing reason to cultivate a balanced, contented mind through meditation! Regular meditation practice has been shown to foster empathy and openheartedness. Meditation doesn’t only benefit us personally, it’s beneficial on a much larger scale.
All well and good, you may think, but how do I get started? To learn the basics of meditation, you can join a local group, seek out instructions online or in books and magazines, and explore Mindworks meditation course on Mind-Body Health and Harmony.