Transforming the Mind and Body: 10 Benefits of Meditation
But, I have learned that meditation itself is NOT hard. However, learning to meditate is inherently challenging.
Meditation is about living life as if it really matters, moment by moment, instead of merely as a technique. And it is not only about getting your mind out of a bad place. It is as much learning to stay in, or getting to, a better place. In the words of Theravada Buddhist monk Ajahn Brahm, “it is like a gym in which you develop the powerful mental muscles of calm and insight.”
I first was exposed to the benefits of meditation over 20 years ago when I was assigned to Naval Special Warfare Unit Ten. One initially might be surprised that the Navy SEALs practiced mindfulness because when we think of the special operations community, we often think about the physical capability of soldiers.
However, during this assignment, I learned that the strength of an elite soldier is really dependent on their cognitive functioning and ability to be present in the moment in the face of stress and adversity. It is the most critical element to overall military health and resiliency.
As we were preparing for a mission, one of my favorite teammates taught me that meditation is not about compelling the mind to be entirely still. Instead, it’s releasing resistance to whatever materializes.
When I left the military and entered the civilian workforce, I found that many people struggled with mindfulness because it can seem like an intangible concept.
There are several reasons for this. Some people believe they are too busy to practice and can’t find the time. Others have a tendency to think there is no point to it and fail to see it as a tool for performance improvement. Others feel that stopping your mind from thinking is like trying to stop ocean waves — it’s impossible. And then some believe it is just some kind of weird new age hype.
But, I can assure you through my study of Passion Struck vanguards that meditation and mindfulness training is not some fluffy soft skill. They are skills that the elite practice and possess, whether that is an elite athlete, artist, performer, creator, entrepreneur, soldier, or business leader.
To convey this, let us take a look at the brief story of well-accomplished journalist Dan Harris, who, through meditation, learned to recognize and heal from a major underlying issue that negatively affected his life.
How Dan Harris discovered healing through the benefits of meditation
On the 7th of June, 2004, Dan Harris was at his job of filling in as the newsreader on the Good Morning America show. He was excited and ready to read the news as he had done so many times before. However, on this particular morning, while he was in the middle of the first story, he got overtaken by a tantalizing bout of fear.
This resulted in a panic attack where he found his heart racing, his palms getting sweaty, his mouth drying up, and his lungs seizing up. He found himself in front of a live TV audience of over 5 million people. He couldn’t continue the newscast, and they quickly shifted back to the show’s main hosts. It was a thoroughly embarrassing moment for him.
Days after this, Harris went to see a doctor who is an expert in panic attacks. The doctor led him through a series of questions, including if he did drugs, which he admitted doing. Upon further thought, Harris realized that what led him up to doing drugs was partly because of his intense drive for achievement and the desire to perform greatly at his job.
Dan Harris had gotten into ABC News at the age of 28 and was working with much older, experienced, and famous TV personalities. He had his dream job but also significant doubts about whether he was good enough. He became a workaholic to compensate for his perceived inadequacy and prove his worth.
Then after the 9/11 attacks, he volunteered to travel and spend time reporting on the ongoing wars in the Middle East. After a few years of reporting, he returned home, but due to the overwhelming experiences he had witnessed, he suffered from PTSD and depression. This led to self-medication and the use of recreational drugs to cope.
The doctor made it clear that the Ecstacy drugs he used caused an increase in the adrenaline level in his brain and ultimately facilitated the panic attack he felt on live TV. This experience forced Dan to make a conscious decision to make some necessary changes in his life, which set him off on an unplanned journey towards wholeness.
Coincidentally at that time, his boss assigned him to cover faith and spirituality for ABC News, which he didn’t want — being raised in a secular environment by parents who were scientists. However, he ended up taking up the assigned task and spent many years meeting people of different faiths, which changed his view of the world and showed him the value of having a worldview larger than one’s narrow self-interest.
During this assignment, he read a book titled The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by a self-help guru named Eckhart Tolle, recommended by one of his producers for a good story. At first, he thought the book’s contents were irredeemable garbage and mere pseudo-science that had no actual application. Then upon further contemplation, he got intrigued by a portion where Eckhart stated that “we all have a voice in our heads; Our inner narrator that is constantly talking to us.”
He recognized that the voice described him and, in fact, was responsible for all the things he was most ashamed of in his life, including the panic attack he experienced. This completely captivated him and marked the beginning of his journey into meditation.
He realized that meditation, which he had always thought was uniquely ridiculous, had some actionable impacts on overcoming the voice in your head. Harris discovered that there’s a vast amount of science that illustrates how meditation is a brain exercise that can create an astounding impact on your brain and body.
And so he decided to give it a shot. He started to do 5–10 minutes of meditation a day, and within weeks, he began to see benefits; boosting his focus and helping him become calmer and more mindful. Today, Dan Harris is a daily meditator and, more interestingly, a public evangelist for the benefits of meditation.
He acknowledges that meditation will not solve all your problems but can change the relationship between you and that voice in your head for good.
Like the story of Dan Harris here, all of us can relate to times when things were not feeling right in our lives or in situations when we had been out of control. With meditation, we can remedy some of these conditions and live out the full lives we hope for.
We will now examine what meditation really entails, how it can be effectively practiced, and the ten vital benefits it offers.
What exactly is meditation and how does it impact mind and body?
American philosopher William James said, “human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”
In that light, meditation is really about bringing your awareness and intentions to everything and everyone around you. And learning that when your mind wanders off, you can bring it back to the present through your breath and pay awareness to it — just as it is.
And for thousands of years, meditation has been practiced. Today, this phrase is frequently associated with religion and mysticism, although in general, meditation simply refers to any form of direct observation of one’s own mind.
According to Dave Vago, Research Associate Professor and Director of the Contemplative Neuroscience and Mind-Body Research Laboratory at Vanderbilt University and prior guest on the Passion Struck podcast, “meditation allows you to create a distance with your negatively oriented thoughts. And that distance, we sometimes refer to it as a psychological distance or as the centering practice. So you’re decentering away from your own thoughts.”
Meditation simply boils down to awareness — being aware of what you’re thinking and noticing your current feelings. In meditation, there is no need to create anything; simply remain and keep your consciousness.
Some people often embark upon meditation in a quest for some special and ecstasy experiences.
However, meditation should never be undertaken in search of unique experiences but rather to focus on understanding the reality of one’s thoughts, whatever that reality may be.
How do you meditate?
Meditation is easier than you think. Actually, you can meditate at any time and place-whether taking a morning walk, riding the evening bus, practicing yoga, waiting for a coffee order, or even in the middle of a stressful work meeting.
Let’s take the example of my favorite way of practicing meditation-walking. Not only is walking a proven stress releaser, but it is also a way to incorporate mindfulness into everything around you. When your thoughts stray to concerns, simply guide them back to your walk and your surroundings.
Don’t let the concept of meditating “properly” add to your anxiety. You can take group classes or attend special meditation centers by certified instructors. However, you can also commence practicing meditation on your own and may find help from meditation mobile apps.
Meditation can be as informal or formal as you desire. However, it serves your lifestyle. Some people incorporate meditation into their daily lives. They could, for example, begin and conclude each day with meditation. Remember that all you actually need is a few minutes of uninterrupted meditation time, practiced consistently.
Also, you need to recognize the types of meditation available, which include mindfulness meditation, focused meditation, movement meditation, transcendental meditation, and loving-kindness meditation, and settle for the ones most suitable for you.
There are many reliable meditation experts like Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, David Yaden, Dave Vago, Sharon Salzberg, Deepak Chopra, and so on that you can follow and read books to better understand the scope of mediation, so you can effectively practice it.
What are the 10 Vital Scientific Benefits of Meditation?
Meditation offers many benefits that center around improving people’s mental, physical and spiritual health and generally improving their quality of life. The following are 10 specific ways through which meditation helps achieve this.
It slows down aging.
In my last episode, I talked about reverse-aging and highlighted that reducing stress is one of the ways through which reverse-aging can be achieved. Meditation has been scientifically shown to increase the length of telomeres and slow the rate of cellular aging.
A 2015 study at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) revealed that long-term meditators had healthier brains than non-meditators. They found significant changes in meditators’ brain volume, which developed more gray matter with more consistent brain volume.
So, it has been established that meditation holds back many of the detrimental effects of aging while enabling a healthier and more productive mind with improvements in attention and clarity of thinking to help keep your mind young.
It positively influences your perception of pain.
It was discovered in 2011 by a study in the Journal of Neuroscience that meditation directly impacts pain mechanisms in your brain. The causes of pain were the same for both meditators and non-meditators, but meditators had a stronger ability to manage discomfort and even experienced a lessened awareness of pain.
Because pain, in various ways, is a mental process, it can be rightly influenced by your thoughts. For instance, you took a long hike the previous day and now have aching feet. The moment you can focus on the positive impact of the hike, which includes achieving your goal and becoming more fit, you will be able to better recognize the pain as one which is needed for the greater good and cope with it.
If you can control your mental state through meditation, you can also control your pain.
It Improves your Efficiency.
Recent research from neuroscientist Amishi Jha proved that meditating for 12 minutes a day, 5 days a week, can safeguard and bolster your ability to pay attention, which is a critical factor in improving your efficiency level.
Meditation has been shown to boost concentration, performance, and working memory capacity. By training your brain to ignore distractions, mediation helps you focus, retain more information, and learn faster, making you able to effectively and efficiently handle work and other aspects of your life.
Helps you bond with compassion and connect better.
Meditation makes you more appreciative of people who love you and people in general. In a 2012 study from the clinical psychology review, researchers tested whether or not this was actually true. They used two different meditation techniques. One was called loving-kindness meditation, and another was called compassion meditation. In theory, these two should develop areas related to kindness and compassion in your brain.
Upon conclusion, they found a significant increase in those parts of the brain, resulting in a higher capacity for compassion and empathy.
Meditation also increases patience and tolerance level, thereby reducing pent-up anger and thus making practitioners more compassionate towards themselves and others.
It is a remedy for stress and anxiety.
If stress makes you anxious, tense, and worried, try meditation. Meditation, even a few minutes, can help restore your calm and inner peace.
A study after a three-year follow-up showed clinical implications of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention and determined that mindfulness meditation can have long-term beneficial effects in treating people diagnosed with anxiety disorders.
It was also discovered that meditation has a neutralizing effect on social anxiety. As little as 15 minutes a day can reduce your self-inflicted stress and soothe your general nervousness, giving you more confidence in all kinds of nerve-wracking situations.
It can help fight addictions.
Science has proven that meditation may aid people to refocus their attention, control their emotions, and improve their awareness of the causes behind their dependencies on drugs or other forms of addiction, like in the case of Dan Harris.
The resulting mental discipline developed through meditation can help you break dependencies by increasing your self-control and awareness of triggers for addictive behaviors.
It relaxes your mental network.
Your brain is full of networks and systems like the default mode network (DMN). This large pack of neural structures spans most of your brain, and it handles all cognitive functions from the creation of selfhood to episodic memory. So you couldn’t really live without it.
But the default mode network isn’t always your friend, as an overactive network could lead to mind-wandering, which is caught up in cycles of what-ifs, worries, and doubts. Studies have shown that too much wandering makes people unhappy and unfocused.
And a 2011 study from Yale University found that people who meditate have less default mode network activity, allowing them to focus on the present and lifting their spirit.
Meditation Increases imagination and creativity
Zen Master Hsing Yun said, “Meditation will not carry you to another world, but it will reveal the most profound and awesome dimensions of the world in which you already live.” This connotes that meditation will enable you to access the depths of imagination and creativity that can be applied to any field you are in, be it music, arts, medicine, engineering, and what have you.
When this happens, you will be able to bring new and amazing things to life and ultimately bless the world with your gifts.
Meditation promotes social gratitude.
Gratitude comes naturally when you Meditate. You begin to discover value in many things you previously took for granted. It helps you reflect on an in-depth level and find what’s most important in life — love, and relationships.
Mediation also helps you see and value the good in your situations, ultimately yielding a constantly grateful mindset.
It boosts overall health.
Meditation can improve self-image and creates a more positive outlook on life, thereby improving your mood and promoting your emotional health.
High blood pressure causes the heart to work harder, contributing to poor cardiac function over time. Meditation can improve physical health by reducing this cardiac strain.
By learning to control or redirect the racing or runaway thoughts that often lead to insomnia, meditation helps you sleep better. Additionally, it can help release tension off your body and place you in a calming state that results in your likelihood of falling asleep. This will ultimately result in a boost in your overall health.
The benefits of meditation need to be experienced rather than described.
In an interview with neuroscientist Richard Davidson and the Dalai Lama, Dan Harris asked Davidson if his work with the Dalai Lama sparked the next public health revolution. Davidson explained, “health is not simply the absence of illness and that meditation practices could be useful in helping people to have more peace of mind and generate more positive emotions in ways that can affect their everyday life, and can potentially reduce health care costs because it can enable people to be more healthy.”
I started this article by discussing my experience with the Navy SEALs. The physical training we did make our bodies stronger, fitter, and more flexible. When combined with mindfulness training, it cultivated the innate capacities of our mind to be present, allowed us to stop operating automatically, and created space where we could face adversity with calmness and more focus.
If you still need more evidence, realize that the most critical evidence you will get is the one you will gather from doing the practice. The scientific evidence might convince you to start the journey towards meditation, but your actual practice is what will make you gain the available benefits.
The most important step you can take is commencing your journey.
So, make intentional efforts to integrate meditation into your daily life. While at it, realize that it takes time to see the changes you seek, so be patient with yourself. Use the available resources I will place in the show notes to improve your practice and consistently keep at it.
Take charge of your health today, put meditation into effective practice, and enjoy all its benefits!
This article is based on an episode of Passion Struck with John R. Miles. Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, or your favorite podcast platform.
- Read my recent article on six ways to benefit from patience.
- Are you having trouble prioritizing yourself? I discuss where you invest your love; you invest your life in Episode 104
- I explain why materialism is impacting your success and happiness in episode 96.
- Do you know the science of healthy habits? I explore this in-depth in Episode 108.
- Suppose you missed my interview with former Navy SEAL Mark Divine on meditation! You can catch up by downloading it here.
- How do you strengthen your relationship with your best self? Explore episode 110.
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Best Meditation and mindfulness are known to be a relaxation technique that can help you focus and de-stress. But it’s not just for people who struggle with mental health problems – it can also be incredibly helpful for anyone looking to improve their general wellbeing.