Meditation is widely believed to induce relaxation and reduce stress levels, with this ancient practice helping countless people around the world to unwind and slow down. The advantages of regular meditation stretch way beyond simple relaxation, however, including a number of scientifically proven benefits related to physical, emotional, and mental health. With meditation proving helpful on so many levels, perhaps it's time to put your inner sceptic to rest and find out what all the fuss is about.
Meditation is a practice that involves training the mind in order to induce a mode of consciousness. While some people see this practice as an end in itself, others engage in meditation to realise a particular benefit related to physical health or emotional well-being. Meditation can also be used to improve self-awareness, build internal energy, and increase mental capacity among other things. Despite its history of use in Buddhism and other religious traditions, the act of meditation is not necessarily a spiritual practice.
There has been over 3,000 scientific studies on the benefits of meditation, including research papers dedicated to physical health, emotional well-being, and mental capacity. Among other things, regular meditation has been shown to improve heart and breathing rates, reduce blood pressure, enhance immunity, reduce anxiety, help with depression, improve emotional control, increase mental focus, and promote better decision making practices. While this may seem far fetched to some, meditation continues to perform well in a range of clinical trials.
Meditation does not mean thinking about nothing. It doesn't require a specific pose or a vacant look, you don't even have to clear your mind. The goal of meditation is to learn how to focus the mind, slowly but surely, over a period of months and years. Practitioners say this process is capable of sorting out the mind - by putting everything in its rightful place and stopping rogue programs from taking over the delicate human operating system. By learning how to focus on the breath or the wind or anything else for that matter, people who meditate are learning to be mindful of the thoughts and emotions that arise throughout the day.
As it turns out, regular mindfulness has a number of surprising benefits, including dramatic improvements to physical health. In a study published in late 2012, a group of over 200 high-risk individuals were asked to either take a health education class promoting better diet and exercise or take a class on Transcendental Meditation. Those who took the meditation class had a 48 percent reduction in their overall risk of heart attack, stroke, and death, including a “significantly reduced risk for mortality, myocardial infarction, and stroke in coronary heart disease patients. [related to] lower blood pressure and psychosocial stress factors.”
Meditation also improves emotional well-being by reducing the risk of anxiety and depression disorders. According to Professor Filip Raes in a study that involved five middle schools in Belgium, “students who follow an in-class mindfulness program report reduced indications of depression, anxiety and stress up to six months later. Moreover, these students were less likely to develop pronounced depression-like symptoms.” People who meditate on a regular basis are also likely to have sharper and more creative minds, with an increased awareness of the unconscious mind leading to better decision making, improved memory, and increased self-control.
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