I talk a lot about mindfulness and meditation but if you’re unfamiliar with the how or why of mindfulness, it can feel like just another thing to try to fit into an already overloaded schedule.
Believe me when I say that the benefits of starting and maintaining a meditation practice are definitely worth the effort, even if you don’t see them instantly. In case you are still in any doubt or you need a friendly nudge reminding you that sitting still is actually doing something good for you, here are just five of the many scientifically proven benefits of a regular mindfulness meditation practice:
1. It’s good for your physical health.
Regular meditation has been shown to boost immunity and lower blood pressure. It helps relieve stress, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal problems. Some forms or mindfulness meditation have been shown to lengthen telomeres in your DNA. Shortening of telomeres is associated with ageing and age-related illness, so longer telomeres indicating a slowing down of cellular ageing.
2. It’s good for your mental health.
Practising mindfulness increases positive emotions and in some cases has been shown to be at least as effective as antidepressants in fighting depression. In the past decade or so, psychologists and psychotherapists have increasingly incorporated mindfulness meditation into the treatment of many psychological problems, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, relationship conflicts, parenting struggles, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
3. It’s good for maintaining a healthy weight.
Mindfulness helps you tune into your body sensations, thereby sharpening your ability to recognise hunger and fullness. Practising mindfulness helps you to ride out cravings and can be effective in disrupting the automatic reaction of reaching for unhealthy foods. Studies have shown that people who meditate, even if they don’t lose weight, actually experience fewer weight fluctuations over time, breaking the unhelpful yo-yoing of weight gain and loss.
4. It’s good for your relationships.
Couples who learn mindfulness report being more relaxed and optimistic, more satisfied with their relationship and more emotionally connected. For parents, mindfulness also helps reduce perinatal depression, stress and anxiety, and parents report being happier with their relationship with their kids.
5. It’s good for your brain.
Meditation practice has been shown to increase the grey matter in your brain! After just 8 weeks of consistent meditation practice, the amygdala, which is the brain’s “fight or flight” centre appears to shrink. This part of the brain is involved in the initiation of the body’s response to stress. As it shrinks, the pre-frontal cortex – which is involved with higher order brain functions like awareness, concentration and decision-making – becomes thicker. The connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain gets weaker, while the connections between areas associated with attention and concentration get stronger. Amazing!
Are you convinced? Now, how to get started:
Meditation is simple, but not easy. It involves putting your attention fully on one thing – whether that be your breathing, sounds, sights or body sensations – and then trying to keep it there while your mind attempts to pull you away into thoughts and distractions. Over and over again, we simply gather our attention and bring it back to our object of focus.
- Download an app and spend time each day doing 10-20 minutes of guided meditation. I normally recommend the Insight Timer app because it’s free and has a huge range of different meditations. Other apps are Calm, Smiling Mind, The Mindfulness App, or Headspace.
- If you’re one who likes to read, check out “Mindfulness for Beginners” or “Wherever You Go, There You Are” (both by Jon Kabat-Zinn). (But remember you don’t learn to swim by reading about swimming techniques. You have to get in the water!)
- If you’re keen to learn from a trained teacher but aren’t sure where to find a class or when you’d find the time – I’d recommend you check out my 8-week Mindfulness for Busy People online course. Hundreds of people just like you have discovered the transformative power of mindfulness.
And remember, a little bit like planting seeds in a garden, you need to keep watering them each day and trust that something is happening beneath the surface before you see the first green shoots appear. And even then, you need to continue attending to those fragile new seedlings to ensure they grow into something lasting with deep, solid roots.