Meditation and It’s Effect on Mental Health – An Exploring Look
You might view meditation as part of religion, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all incorporate meditation into their practices. Yogis too, use meditation in their practice. Meditation as a spiritual tool is off-putting for some people who do not subscribe to religion. However, the benefits of meditation as a daily practice in a secular way are now widely known. Many people already thriving use meditation to train their brain and take full control of their thoughts and reactions. If you struggle with your mental health, meditation will help you too. A Buddhist monk will spend upwards of eight hours per day in meditation, but just ten minutes twice a day will bring big benefits to your life.
Features of Meditation
When you meditate, you train yourself to focus your attention. Anxiety causes many of us to think about the present or past. Meditation helps you keep your thoughts in the present. Typically, when meditating, you will use your breath, a mantra, an image or object to maintain focus. Like all skills, you get better with practice. The more you meditate, the easier it is to sustain living in the moment, and your brain is less likely to wander into the future or past. If it does, you have the tool to bring yourself back to the present moment.
When you use meditation to focus on your breathing, you will breathe more efficiently. Ideally, your breathing is deep, abdominal and your exhale longer than your inhale. When you assess your natural breathing technique, you might find that you breathe into your chest. This is not the optimal way to breathe, however it is the way many of us do breathe. Your inhale speeds up your heart rate, and your exhale slows it. A pounding heart is a symptom of anxiety. Sometimes a fast heart beat exasperates the anxiety, as you worry something is wrong. When you use your breath to slow your heart rate, the symptoms of anxiety dissipate, and you can feel more at ease.
Remaining open minded is a feature of meditation. When you meditate, you view all feelings and thoughts as equal. You refrain from categorising things as positive or negative, and withdraw all judgement. I like to use the analogy of feelings as colours, all different, yet none better or worse than another. When meditating, this is the way to view all feelings, whether emotional or physical.
The Benefits of Meditation for Mental Health
Research shows that the benefits of mindfulness based meditation have positive effects on depression that can last over six months. Unlike pharmaceuticals, meditation has no known negative side effects. A 2018 review of many scientific studies of mindfulness based interventions found them an equivalent treatment to other evidence-based treatments, such as SSRIs (a type of antidepressant). Other studies show mindfulness based interventions as effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety and improving mood. (Saeed, Cunningham & Bloch, 2022)
Evidence of the benefits of meditation grow all the time. I advocate a short meditation practice daily. However, short bursts of regular meditation, for example from 5 days to 8 weeks, appear to improve cognitive and metabolic functioning. In addition to reducing stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression, meditation can improve your quality of life, your sleep, ease your fear response, stabilise your heart rate and central nervous system, improve your blood flow and the delivery of oxygen to your body.
Meditation as a long-term practice is thought to improve attention by thickening parts of your brain and increasing the areas involved in attention, introception, and sensory processing. Long term meditation can also improve immune functioning, reduce blood pressure, and other physiological functions, such as insulin resistance, inflammation and glucose intolerance.
The Mind Body Connection and Meditation
You have a strong mind-body connection. When everything functions efficiently, there is less risk of mental health problems. In the moment, meditation makes you slow down, giving you time for deep introspection, helping you discover yourself. This self discovery will help you take control of your reactions, so you feel in control of yourself. When you explore your thoughts and feelings without judgement, you improve your self esteem. When you meditate, you lower the levels of cortisol – the stress hormone – in your body, helping you feel more relaxed. The more you meditate, the more your body learns how to live in this relaxed state. Meditation teaches you how to live in the moment, so your mind is less likely to have the anxious thinking pattern of worrying about the future or past. Take control with meditation to stop worrying about the next part of your life, and instead focus on the bit you’re in now – the bit you used to look forward to.
Saeed, S., Cunningham, K., & Bloch, R. (2022). Depression and Anxiety Disorders: Benefits of Exercise, Yoga, and Meditation. Retrieved 15 June 2022, from https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2019/0515/p620.html?cmpid=em_AFP_20190318.
Innes, K., & Selfe, T. (2022). Meditation as a Therapeutic Intervention for Adults at Risk for Alzheimerâ€™s Disease â€“ Potential Benefits and Underlying Mechanisms. Retrieved 15 June 2022, from
A beginner’s guide to meditation. (2022). Retrieved 15 June 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/meditation/in-depth/meditation/art-20045858
7 benefits of meditation, and how it can affect your brain. (2022). Retrieved 15 June 2022, from https://www.insider.com/guides/health/mental-health/benefits-of-meditation