Meditation and benefits for our mental health

It’s not surprising that with lingering concerns about the pandemic, rising prices for everything from gas to groceries, and domestic and global political strife, anxiety and stress among Americans are off the charts. It’s also no surprise that more people are looking for ways to manage stress, relieve anxiety, and improve their quality of life. What might be surprising – millions are finding this through meditation.

Meditation is not a fad

Meditation is believed to have originated in India several thousand years ago. It is often associated with ancient countries Egypt and China as well as religions of Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The Bible even mentions meditation more than 20 times. However, the modern history of mediation is more secular, even considered mainstream like yoga or Pilates.

The simplest definition of meditation is to engage in contemplation or reflection. Some describe it as training your attention to achieve a mental state of calm concentration and positive emotions. This mind and body practice has a long history of developing mindfulness, increasing relaxation, and enhancing overall well-being. Setting aside even a few minutes each day for any kind of meditation helps establish a routine for health and wellness.

Elements of meditation

While meditation takes many forms, the National Institutes of Health has identified four elements most forms of meditation have in common:

  1. A quiet location with as few distractions as possible
  2. A specific, comfortable posture like sitting, lying down, walking, or in other positions
  3. A focused attention that may include a specially chosen word or set of words, an object, or the sensations of one’s own breathing
  4. An open attitude letting distractions come and go naturally without judging them

Types of meditation

Among the dozens of types of meditation, these are some of the more popular meditation techniques practiced by more than 18 million Americans.

  • Mindfulness meditation – Mindfulness meditation is the practice of being fully present in the moment, being aware of where you are and what you are doing, and actively paying attention in an accepting, nonjudgmental way. You can do this during a dedicated meditation session or by simply being more intentional and aware of what you do each day.
  • Guided meditation – During this type of meditation, a guide will instruct you to relax specific muscles in the body until they are comfortable. They will lead you through mental images and visualizations, often of healing light or the dissipation of past wrongs. Guided meditation can last a few minutes or several hours.
  • Movement meditation – With movement meditation, you engage in a repetitive activity or one where you can get “in the zone” and experience “flow.” Structured practices include tai chi, qigong, or yoga, but any rhythmic movement can work. Try meditation while stretching, walking, gardening, driving, or even doing daily tasks like brushing your teeth or doing the dishes. These movements can quiet the mind and allow your brain to shift.
  • Transcendental meditation – Transcendental meditation is a kind of meditation in which people mentally relax by silently repeating particular words, or personal mantra. This technique helps you avoid distracting thoughts and promotes a state of relaxed awareness.
  • Loving-kindness meditation – During loving-kindness meditation, you focus benevolent and loving energy toward yourself and others. Those who regularly practice this technique increase their capacity for forgiveness, connection to others, and self-acceptance

Benefits of meditation for our mental health

According to the Mayo Clinic, when you meditate, you may clear away the information overload that builds up every day and contributes to your stress. Benefits of meditation can include:

  • Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
  • Building skills to manage your stress
  • Increasing self-awareness
  • Focusing on the present
  • Reducing negative emotions
  • Increasing imagination and creativity
  • Increasing patience and tolerance
  • Lowering resting heart rate
  • Lowering resting blood pressure
  • Improving sleep quality

The science is mounting that mindfulness practices like meditation positively impact our mental health. Here is some of the evidence.

  • After researchers at Johns Hopkins University scoured 19,000 meditation studies and 47 clinical trials, their findings suggest that mindful meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain.
  • When employees at Google and Roche used a mindfulness smartphone app called Headspace for just eight weeks, they reported a reduction in depression and anxiety by 46% and 31%, respectively.
  • Psychological distress was lowered among teachers and support staff who participated in a transcendental meditation program for a 2019 study.
  • Society for Integrative Oncology recommends meditation for improving mood and easing depression during radiation therapy and after treatment.
  • Cortisol (the stress hormone) was significantly lower among study participants who followed a meditation practice, suggesting that it can lower stress. In addition, researchers suggested this may decrease the risk of diseases that arise from stress such as psychiatric disorders, peptic ulcers and migraines.
  • Individuals with social anxiety disorder reported decreased anxiety and improved self-esteem in a study that had them complete a two-month meditation program.

Bonus benefits

Meditation has been shown to help with irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and posttraumatic stress disorder by lowering stress levels. Benefits to physical health don’t stop there. Studies show varying levels of evidence that mind-body practices can help people with:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Smoking
  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Asthma
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches

Getting started

With so much potential, meditation is worth a try. Consider downloading one of several popular mindfulness apps (Headspace, Calm, Ten Percent Happier) available on the App Store and Google Play. Or, visit mindful.org for a guide to meditation and free guided audio practices.

Or try something close to home with those local resources.

Yoga for Self Healing

Guided meditations, yoga, Thai massage
Taught by Deb Newton in Mora
Visit yoga4selfhealing.com or call 320.980.3880

Kanabec History Center

Yoga classes
Taught by Charrie VanVleet in Mora
Call 320.515.9759 for details

WillowBridge Center

Yoga classes
Taught by various instructors in Isanti
Visit willowbridgecenter.com or call 763.552.6161

MindBody App • Membership or drop-in class fees • Isanti – | Isanti, MN 763.552.616

Community resource guide

Welia Health has compiled this Community Resource Guide include local fitness, wellness and education resources.