The Health Benefits of Meditation
Overstressed, overworked, overweight? Forget multitasking and try meditating. A growing body of research shows that taking a short break every day just to sit quietly and breathe is one of the best and easiest ways to improve your mood, your health and even your looks.
Here are five great reasons to give meditation a chance:
1. Meditation could make you smarter.
Just as daily exercise conditions your body, meditation does the same to your brain. After a few weeks of regular practice, you’ll notice that your concentration, clarity and alertness have improved. Brain scans of meditators show that they produce more gamma brain waves, a high-premium type of electrical impulse that’s used in focus, memory and making connections between different parts of the brain.
2. Meditation can reduce stress.
Through a daily mediation practice, you slowly train yourself to replace the automatic “fight or flight” response with what Harvard doctor Herbert Benson coined as “the relaxation response.” Instead of a surge of adrenaline and a rapidly beating heartbeat, your sympathetic nervous system remains quiet. Blood tests have shown that long-time meditators actually have less of the stress hormone cortisol at the end of the day. When you’re confronted with, say, a disagreement with your best friend, meditation will help you remain calm and choose how you want to respond.
3. Meditation is a natural antidepressant.
“Don’t worry, be happy,” the song goes -- and research is proving that you can indeed relax your way out of the blues. Two new studies have shown that people who meditated for 20 minutes twice a day experienced a 50 percent reduction in depressive symptoms. Meditation lifts your spirits in two ways, experts believe: It triggers changes in the brain that lead to a release of feel-good chemicals, and it helps derail negative thinking patterns that can keep you stuck in a bad mood.
4. Meditation can help improve your skin.
If you’re a person who breaks out when you’re stressed, you might want to resist the urge to pop a pimple and settle into the lotus position instead. In an intriguing study, people who suffer from psoriasis, a condition that causes itchy, scaly skin, listened to meditation tapes while they received ultraviolet light treatments. The results: They healed four times as fast as non-meditators. Why? Meditation triggered the body’s ability to repair itself and also lessened the stress that can lead to psoriasis flare-ups or acne.
5. Meditation may help you lose weight.
No, you won’t be able to eat a gallon of chocolate-chip ice cream every night without budging the scale. But meditation creates a self-awareness that can cut down on the type of mindless eating that leads to the pound pile-on. In one study, binge eaters who practiced meditation cut their incidences of overeating by more than half. With a “this too shall pass” mindset, they were able to recognize their urge to binge without giving in to it.
How to Meditate
Sit comfortably on a chair, a cushion or the floor with your eyes closed. Become aware of your breath moving in and out of your body. You’ll likely be distracted by a car horn honking, an itch in your right ankle, thoughts about what to have for dinner: Observe whatever pops up without judgment and go back to paying attention to your breath. You can count each breath, say “om” or just remain silent. Start with five minutes and increase it to 15 or 20 minutes. Practice once or twice a day.
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