Meditation is a practice that has existed for thousands of years. It takes many different shapes and forms, and plays a large role as a spiritual exercise, and healthy custom, in many different cultures and belief systems.
But while meditation may be popular around the world, there are plenty of misconceptions floating around about this ancient practice—and the many benefits it offers in the here and now!
What Is Meditation?
There are many ways of defining meditation, just as there are many ways of practicing it.
Some forms of meditation are rooted in the repetition of a manta, or focused breathing. Others involve visualization. Still other types are based on broader ideas of pursuing compassion, achieving mindfulness, strengthening the body, or reaching a state of transcendence.
Shrimati Bhanu Narasimhan, a meditation instructor in Washington, DC, calls meditation “mental hygiene.” One writer for Healthline describes it as “a habitual process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts.”
One swami, writing for Yoga International, argues that meditation is “a precise technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is totally different from the normal waking state,” allowing us to fathom “all the levels of ourselves” and experience “the center of consciousness within.”
Perhaps Merriam-Webster’s definition is the most practical; this dictionary definition says that to meditate is to “engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.”
From these sources, we can narrow in on a few central ideas:
- Meditation is about focus, rest, and habit
- It emphasizes thoughtfulness, awareness of ourselves and our environment, and mental clarity
- It’s a process and a skillset, with a unique set of principles and steps that can be learned and honed over time.
What Are the Benefits of Meditating?
Broadly speaking, many forms of meditation claim to offer similar benefits, including:
- Reduced stress
- Clearer thinking
- Greater empathy
- Fewer feelings of depression and anxiety
Over the years, different scientific studies have confirmed these benefits, as well as many more!
For instance, studies have shown that practicing meditation over time not only reduces feelings of stress, but also many of the physical symptoms of stress-related conditions, such as inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and fibromyalgia.
In one study that compared the brains of people who practiced mindfulness meditation and those who did not, scientists saw significantly more electrical activity in the areas of the brain that are responsible for feelings of optimism and positive thinking in those that engaged in meditation. Similarly, studies have linked meditation to improved feelings of self-esteem, lower levels of loneliness, and more creative problem-solving.
On the physical side, there is substantial evidence that engaging in meditation can help you sleep better. Meditation has even been shown to help our bodies manage pain more effectively, and has been proven to help lower blood pressure and improve circulation.
How Can I Get Started?
One of the best things about practicing meditation is that you can do it anytime, anywhere. You don’t need any specialized equipment or a designated space to get started, and you can fold it into your schedule. In fact, many people can see substantial benefits from meditation even if they do it for as little as five, ten, or fifteen minutes a day!
To get started, it may help to do some research on the different types of meditation out there, so that you can find the philosophy and practice that will align with your lifestyle.
Here are a few resources to check out:
Free Guided Meditations from UCLA Health
Whether you’re just getting started with meditation or looking for a fresh approach, these free audio files (and transcripts) may have just what you need. Think of these starter sessions as an entry point or trial run for different meditation methods, including breathing, “body and sound,” or “loving kindness.”
Billing itself as “meditation made simple,” Headspace offers a ton of useful tools, all designed to teach you how to live mindfully and practice meditation on your own terms. You can download the app for iOS and Android devices, or sign up online, here.
With its great tagline “Many Voices, One Journey,” Sounds True offers a wide variety of content about meditation and mindfulness, including audio experiences and great written content from some of the leading thinkers in the field.
And now, the Enrollment Specialists would like to know: What are your experiences with mindfulness and meditation? How has this practice affected your life? Are there any resources that you’d love to share? Be sure to let us know over on Facebook!
If stresses about health and life insurance are holding you back from reaching that state of Zen, remember that the Enrollment Specialists are here to help set you on the right path!
Led by health insurance superhero Matt Peebles, our office is always here to answer any questions you may have about coverage, and guide you toward the policy that will work best for you, your family, or your small business. To experience our transcendent team in action, don’t hesitate to get in touch!