Why Meditate? How Meditation Supports Mental Health
Meditation has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years, and it conjures images of Buddhist monks sat crossed-legged in silence, saying “OM” over and over – but that’s not usually what meditation looks like for the average person (or even Buddhists!). In reality, meditation is simply the practice of slowing down, focusing the mind, and trying to create detachment or curiosity around the thoughts that travel in and out of your mind.
The goal is a sense of concentration, calmness, and peace. Meditation can improve mental health, give clarity and help us focus. If you’re wondering if meditation can help you, keep reading.
What are the benefits of meditation?
Reduced stress and anxiety
We all experience stress and anxiety from time to time, and meditation is one of the best mindfulness practices to help alleviate intense feelings when they arise when we should be resting. Many studies have found that patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorder experience decreased symptoms and find it easier to cope when those feelings do arise after doing just 8 weeks of mindfulness training.
Those who suffer from anxiety disorders know that anxiety never goes away permanently; it simply becomes easier to manage. Those with anxiety and/or high-stress levels may respond particularly well to guided meditation, in which you form mental images of scenarios or places you find relaxing. A meditation guide will try to encourage you to connect with as many senses as possible, like sounds, smells, sights, and textures.
Gives us the tools to deal with negative emotions
Everyone experiences negative thoughts; it’s a normal part of life and shouldn’t be avoided. Rather, we should learn to monitor those emotions and deal with them accordingly. Instead of running away from an unpleasant mental image or thought, we visualize ourselves looking at the thought and saying “thanks for coming, but you’re not helping me right now, so it’s time to go.”
Meditation allows us to relive situations that made us angry or upset and view them in a less intensely personal way. In this way, meditation can make us more resilient to life’s everyday stressors. When we understand that we’re allowed to feel negative feelings, we can observe them from a place of curiosity and decide whether we want to take action to change something in our lives, or feel the feelings and then let them go.
Makes it easier to cope with illnesses and injuries
While meditation isn’t a replacement for medication or talking therapy, it can help patients to look inward. Meditation encourages us to see the big picture, feel calmer and manage our symptoms.
It makes it easier to get to sleep and sleep peacefully
With a manageable stress level comes better sleep. Meditation before bedtime is a great way to slow down your heart rate, telling your body that it is time to relax and unwind. Pre-bedtime meditation also helps you reflect on your day, thinking rationally about things that may have upset or annoyed you during the day.
A reduction in tension
Have you ever had a stressful day and woken up the next day feeling like you’ve been hit by a bus? When we’re stressed, we often tense up all over, especially in our shoulders, neck, and jaw. This can result in tension headaches and more which are not only uncomfortable physically but can perpetuate those stressed feelings mentally. Meditation gives us a chance to relax, loosen those muscles, and find a place of peace that will better set us up for the future.
What are the different types of meditation?
As we talked about at the beginning, meditation isn’t just about sitting in silence, not thinking. There are so many different ways you can meditate, so experiment and find the ways that best work for you and your personality type. Ways to meditate can include:
- Mantra meditation, in which you silently repeat a word, thought, or phrase to help you relax and prevent distraction. This repetition often places people in a trance-like state, helping them attain a higher level of peace and relaxation.
- Mindfulness meditation, which is based on having an increased awareness of living in the present. It teaches us a sense of perspective and encourages us to think before we speak and act. In mindfulness meditation, we focus on what we experience during meditation, like any tingling sensations, sounds we hear, and the flow of our breath.
- Qi gong, which is part of traditional Chinese medicine. This practice combines meditation, physical movement, and breathing exercises to maintain calmness and balance.
- Tai chi, which also comes from China. This form of gentle Chinese martial arts involves deep breathing throughout a self-paced series of slow, graceful postures or movements.
- Yoga, which is often used by those who wish to gain physical strength and mental clarity. Yoga involves performing several postures and controlled breathing exercises, focusing less on your busy life and more on how you feel in the moment.
- Guided meditation, in which you listen to someone tell you a story of what you’re doing or thinking. This type is great for beginners and busy minds that find it hard to switch off. You can find plenty of free guided meditations on YouTube, so try a few and find a channel you like. One of the best is The Honest Guys, so give them a try if you’re new to guided meditations.
- You can also try simply walking in nature with no distractions – leave your earphones at home (unless you plan to listen to soothing music or a guided meditation as you walk) and listen to the ambient sounds around you. Marvel at nature and avoid getting sucked into your thoughts or looking at the world through a lens, be present and experience the world around you.
There are plenty of ways to practice meditation, whether you prefer sitting still and visualizing your thoughts come and go, or doing a gentle movement to accompany it. Meditation can help promote an open mindset as we practice the art of letting our thoughts flow without judgment or worry. Meditation can be as formal or informal as you like, and the best thing about it is that no version of it is better than the other. It is simply a matter of personal choice and you are free to adapt your practice based on what you need in the moment.