You’ve probably heard a lot about meditation and its amazing benefits. It’s been a buzzword in all things wellness for decades (and for a good reason). And while this practice has gained notoriety as of late, daily meditation is an ancient and spiritual practice that has offered its practitioners incredible health benefits for thousands of years.
Before we dive into the health benefits of meditation, let’s first chat about what exactly meditation is anyway. While the original definition of meditation is to think or ponder, the practice of meditation has a lot more to do with shutting off your brain and letting those thoughts in the back of your mind drift away. In some form or another, meditation has been and continues to be practiced by most major religions. However, it is most commonly associated with Buddhism. In this context, you may have heard of meditation as a practice of both the mind and body, as in Buddhism.
How does meditation and mindfulness work?
In simple terms, most people who practice meditation report a feeling of calmness and stillness when it comes to their thoughts. This is why it can be a bit tricky to describe meditation. How do you explain what you’re thinking when you’re not thinking? But in my experience, that’s exactly what happens. When I meditate, I can just focus on my breath, the meditative background music, or simply observe a leaf blowing in the wind.
While most people practice meditation to clear their minds and let go of the stream of thoughts, mindfulness isn’t quite the same. Mindfulness is more about being present. For example, you may have heard about mindful eating. In this practice, you slow down your eating. You may find yourself slowing down and savoring each bite. Some people even wear a blindfold so that they can enhance the experience. It is similar to meditation in that the goal focuses on quieting the mind and concentrating on something else. Still, the difference is that you are consciously focusing on something. You may reach meditative stillness and quiet your mind, but it’s more about being present.
Different Types of Meditation
And within the ambiguous language of meditation, there are several different types of meditation. It can get a little overwhelming, but the great thing about this vast selection of different meditation methods is that you can find the best fit for you. Here are a few to give you some insight.
Zen meditation comes from Buddhist traditions and frequently involves keeping your eyes semi-open during a meditation session. Like mindfulness training, zen meditation is all about being in the present moment. This can be practiced through breathwork, quiet awareness, allowing your thoughts to flow without judgment, and group meditation activities like a mindful walk.
Mantras are words or phrases that, when repeated, can have a calming and, oftentimes, empowering effect. You can carry out a mantra meditation by setting a timer, getting comfortable, repeating your mantra, and just letting your mantra anchor your spiritual and relaxation practice. I like to do a morning mantra meditation to set my intention for the day.
While some view yoga as a workout, others view it as a meditation practice. When I practice yoga, I always begin by setting an intention. Many instructors create methods with specific spiritual purposes, like “yoga for inner peace.” Typically this form of meditation session is done after your yoga practice. It’s often done during shavasana, or while holding resting postures.
Guided meditation is usually a meditation technique where you follow the spoken instructions of a teacher. This can be done in a class or a recording. These meditations tend to follow a narrative that helps you visualize your insecurities or desires in a very physical way. The goal is usually to leave you with greater inner peace. You can find loads of guided meditations online, and apps like Retreat Sounds have extensive libraries of meditation courses.
Breathwork can be as simple as noticing your breath, following a sequence of inhaling and exhaling for a specific count, or practicing alternate nostril breathing. All have incredible calming and health benefits, like lowering your heart rate and stress level.
Sometimes just focusing on the background music is a form of meditation. Binaural beats are associated with deep relaxation, reducing anxiety, and improving sleep. Retreat Sounds has an incredible collection of binaural beats that can get you to a deeply relaxing state of mind. If you’d like to learn more about Retreat Sounds, a revolutionary meditation app, head here and consider downloading the app. It’s a beautiful way to add a little serenity to your day when life gets hectic.
What are the health benefits of meditation?
Meditation has gained so much popularity that it’s associated with a vast range of health benefits. But can it really be the answer to all of our health issues? Yes, and no. I like to view meditation training as a tool that is part of a long list of healthy practices. Just like I know that it’s important to drink lots of water, exercise, journal, and maintain relationships with loved ones, meditation is a big part of what keeps me mentally and physically healthy. But how exactly does shutting off your mind and getting into a relaxed state lead to better physical and mental health? Let’s dive in and look at meditation's incredible health benefits.
Stress and Anxiety Relief
This is probably the benefit you’ve most heard associated with meditation, and it’s a great place to start because stress and anxiety significantly affect our overall health. Stress can seriously affect our health from heart disease and inflammation to our skin’s elasticity. So, when we can reduce stress and anxiety in our lives, we can start to see positive effects on all aspects of our health.  
Other health risks aside, dealing with stress and anxiety makes life challenging, and there are things that you can do to help you cope. It’s important to note that while meditation can help with stress and anxiety, it’s also always a good idea to check in with a health professional when it’s becoming pervasive and preventing you from carrying out your regular day-to-day routine. Meditation can calm your body and mind because when you’re focusing on something like your breath or are in the zen zone and can push aside the stream of your thoughts, you’re giving yourself a break and allowing yourself to be in the present moment.
While there are a lot of studies and explanations about meditation, in simple terms, I like to think of it as giving your mind a break. When we are worried about something or many things, those thoughts tend to ruminate, which can be both overwhelming and exhausting, so when you take even a few minutes to meditate and just let your mind be clear, you’re giving yourself a break from those pervasive thoughts. I’ve also noticed that after meditating, I have greater clarity about what’s bothering me. So much of what was bothering me was based on others’ opinions or societal expectations, so when I give my mind a break, I can get closer to what I actually want.
One of my favorite ways to meditate when I’m feeling stressed and anxious (which happened to be this week) is by inhaling to a count of seven, holding for three seconds, and exhaling to a count of seven. I like to do this as my go-to morning meditation practice, and I also love to visualize my breath going into my heart chakra, filling me up with love and compassion for the day.
Does regular meditation release trauma from the body?
When talking about meditation for stress reduction and anxiety relief, another incredible benefit of meditation that is worth exploring is its potential to release body trauma. Meditation is becoming a popular treatment method for various mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One study showed that in 10 trials with meditation as an intervention to treat PTSD and depression with 634 participants, they improved the PTSD and depression symptoms. 
Meditation and Inflammation
If you’ve been following the NutriRise blog, you probably already know how bad inflammation is for your health. And there are loads of dietary changes you can make to lower inflammation in your body, but did you know that meditation has also been shown to have an incredible effect on lowering inflammation? 
How does meditation lower inflammation?
When understanding meditation’s effect on inflammation, we must first understand a thing or two about inflammation and the body. When you’re stressed, the body releases the stress hormone cortisol. When you need it, cortisol is a good thing, like if you’re in a dangerous situation and need to be alert. 
However, if you feel stressed every day, your body is definitely producing too much cortisol, which can lead to inflammation. 
So, how to lower those cortisol levels becomes the critical question here. One way we can reduce our cortisol levels is by meditating. Regular meditation can get us in a calmer state of mind and out of the fight-or-flight setting. And, in turn, can lower our cortisol levels and inflammation. 
Meditation and the Skin
And when talking about inflammation, another incredible health benefit of meditation is its potential ability to improve the health of your skin. When you’re stressed, cortisol and inflammation increase which is not good news for your skin. High cortisol levels can lead to skin drying out, acne, and wrinkles. But the good news is that when you meditate, the increased oxygen and lower levels of stress hormones can slow down the aging process. While other factors can lead to more wrinkles and aging, such as smoking, drinking, sun exposure, etc., stress can be persistent, which is why if you start meditating, you may notice a dramatic change in your skin.  
Meditation and Memory
Meditation is also known to help with memory and concentration. This can be seen in focused meditation, which focuses on one goal or activity. Whether you are simply focusing on one specific task or taking a break and meditating by focusing on your breath, meditation is linked to lowering depression which can help you better concentrate and increase your attention span. When feeling anxious or depressed, focusing on our goals or day-to-day tasks is difficult. Meditation helps reduce those ruminating thoughts, which are very common. Researchers at Harvard University found that the mind is lost in thought 47% of the time. That’s a lot of one’s thoughts! Studies have also shown that meditation can boost memory and cognitive function. As per a study with Wake Forest University School of Medicine, researchers found that participants of four sessions of meditation saw improvement in their mood, verbal fluency, visual coding, and working memory. 
Where to Begin
Now that we’ve covered the incredible health benefits of meditation such as its ability to lower stress and anxiety, lower inflammation, reduce chronic pain, release trauma from the body, and help improve your memory and concentration, how exactly does one begin a regular meditation routine?
Why is meditation in the morning good?
If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, you may have noticed that they say to begin the practice by setting an intention. This principle applies to your day. When you meditate in the morning, you are setting the intention to bring more calmness and clarity into your day. There’s also something to be said about doing things first thing in the morning to ensure you get them done.
Morning Meditation Boosts Mood
Besides setting your intention for the day, a morning meditation has the added benefit of enhancing your mood. After a good night’s sleep, your mind is also calmer, making it easier for first-time meditators to block out all those streaming thoughts that occur throughout the day.
Meditation as a Break
That’s not to say that meditation as a midday break or before bed doesn’t also hold health benefits because they certainly do. Setting aside some time to meditate around noon is a great way to recalibrate your mind and give your mind a little break, whether it’s a break from a stressful office job or a break from parenting.
Meditation Before Bed
A meditation practice before bed is a great way to get yourself in a calmer state of mind, which will help you get a better night’s sleep. Starting a meditation routine before bed is a great way to trigger your brain into associating meditation with rest. Not only will it reduce stress from the day, but it will also help get you in a calmer state of mind, which means you’ll fall asleep faster.
So, What Are You Waiting For?
Whether it's mindfulness meditation, guided meditation, or yoga meditation, there are so many health benefits of meditation that you’ve got to try it! From reducing inflammation, stress, anxiety, and chronic pain to bringing greater calmness and inner peace into your life, regular meditation practice is an easy and accessible way to take charge of your health.
Note: This article is for informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider before starting any dietary supplement.