The benefits of meditation include increased happiness, calmness and clarity. It is a simple practice that is free and available to everyone who breathes.
It was decades ago that I first began thinking about the three aspects of health: body, mind and spirit. For me it always felt easier to embrace body and mind, because these two realms seemed more accepted in my adolescent world at the time. To talk of a “spiritual practice”, for someone who was not religious, was seen as too out there. Having said that, I first practiced meditation at age 14. Even then, although I couldn’t articulate how, I knew that meditation would be beneficial.
My mom drove me from our home outside of Dartmouth over to Halifax one night a week for many weeks. I practiced with a teacher while she…did what? I don’t even know how she spent that hour in the car, in the dark while I learned from a TM teacher, but when I look through the lens of this third act of my life, I understand what it meant for her to give up her time to do this. I now believe that she supported me to do this because she saw the value in it, even though I still felt a bit “weird” and never got past the feeling of having to steal 20 minutes twice a day to practice in my room and hope that I wasn’t caught meditating.
More than forty years later, meditation is a mainstream and well documented component of good health, and forty years later I still experience that feeling that hangs out in my reptilian brain of not wanting to be caught in the act of meditating. That happens in the space where the mind intersects…and I practice letting go.
What is meditation?
Meditation involves the regulation of focus and attention. It can be a practice of focused attention or open awareness. It is a habitual process of focus and redirection of thoughts. There are many kinds of meditation practices, that can be religious, spiritual or secular. So, how do you practice letting go? Meditation does not have to happen on the cushion. In fact, it can happen at any moment and in any place. When you can see yourself as an observer of your life, and just watch ideas, thoughts and beliefs pass by without holding on to them, that is meditation. My amazing yoga teacher describes thoughts during meditation as clouds passing by. You can’t reach them or old on to them. You just watch as they pass by without any attachment to them.
Just as an athlete at the top of their game continues to practice, stumble and fall and get back up and start all over again, so is the practice of meditation. To say you can’t “do” meditation is to say you can’t breathe, as that is the only thing you have to be able to do to meditate.
Health benefits of meditation
The health benefits of meditation are now well documented:
- Improved concentration (1)
- Meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression and pain (2, 3, 4)
- reduces cognitive rigidity that is often associated with alcoholism, obsessive behaviours, eating disorders and ADHD (5)
- improved attention (6)
- improvement in sleep quality (7)
- can improve emotional wellbeing (8)
- reduces perception of pain intensity (9)
Just think about that, being able to improve your health by sitting and breathing. Remember, it’s a practice and every day, every time you sit to meditate is a new beginning. Every breath is a new beginning. When your mind strays, just breathe and begin again.