The modern world provides many conveniences but it also brings increased stress and anxiety. Busy schedules create the need for relaxation from time to time. Meditation is a practice that people engage in to achieve a more peaceful state of mind through quiet contemplation or through sustained focus on sound, mantras, or the breath. Virtually all forms of meditation induce a more peaceful state of mind, but the practice offers a host of additional advantages. Five benefits of meditation in particular lead to enhanced health and happiness.
1. Reduced Muscle Tension
By controlling breathing, calming the mind, and focusing attention on specific areas of the body, meditation can help reduce muscle tension. A technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation is particularly helpful at the beginning of a session. People purposefully tighten and relax muscles in a systematic way resulting in reduced muscle tension throughout the body.
2. Lower Blood Pressure
Because meditation enhances relaxation, it makes one of the best natural high blood pressure remedies. Relaxation triggers the release of nitric oxide, which expands blood vessels and lowers blood pressure. A study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine examined the effects of meditation on 60 people with high blood pressure. Results showed that 40 of the 60 subjects were able to stop taking blood pressure medication as a result of regular meditation.
3. Slower Heart Rate
The many physical benefits of meditation also include a slower heart rate. A Korean study showed that subjects who practiced the Integrated Amrita Meditation Technique experienced slower heart rates, and benefits lasted for up to 8 months after the study ended.
4. Better Sleep
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that mindfulness programs which include meditation practice may help improve sleep. A group of 49 middle-aged and older adults who reported trouble sleeping either participated in a mindfulness program or a sleep education class for improving sleep habits. Both groups met once weekly for a period of six weeks. The people in the mindfulness program reported less insomnia, fatigue, and depression after six weeks than the people attending the sleep education class.
Related: Meditation Rewires Your Brain
5. Less Stress
Many studies have shown the benefits of meditation for anxiety and stress. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin in Madison found that people who practice Open Monitoring Meditation like Vipassana showed less gray matter in the areas of the brain related to anxiety and stress. On the flipside, MRIs taken before and after meditation have shown more gray matter in areas related to learning and memory. In layman's terms, these results indicate that regular meditation can lead to less stress and better learning and memory.
With so many physical and mental benefits of meditation, people may want to give it a try. One of the easiest ways to begin meditating is to focus on the breath. Sit or lie comfortably, close the eyes, and breathe naturally. Focus on the breath and the movement of the body with each inhale and exhale. If the mind wanders, bring it gently back to focusing on the breath. Start with a period of five minutes, and increase time with practice. Start out with even a few minutes of meditation each day. Increase the amount of time in meditation according to your comfort zone. Consistency is the key.