Meditation has become extremely popularized in the health and wellness spaces. You may even hear it being cited as the cause of their success by many celebrities and business leaders. This is because meditation has numerous health benefits, including a positive impact on mental health.
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What is Meditation?
Despite its popularity, few of us know exactly what meditation is. There are many different types of meditation, but they all essentially have the same goal: to help one achieve inner calm through mindful awareness. This can be achieved through breath work, repetition of a mantra, or visualization, depending on the meditation technique.
How Meditation Changes the Brain
The mind is the primary actor in meditation. It is both the tool and the beneficiary of a meditation practice. Because of this, meditation can have an impressive effect on mental health. Meditation can actually change the structure and function of your brain. Meditation increases the amount of gray matter in the brain. In one study, regular practitioners of meditation were shown to have higher gray matter concentration in the hippocampus and frontal lobe. These brain areas play a role in memory, sense of self and learning. It is thought that the increased gray matter may contribute to resistance to diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
In addition to increasing gray matter, regular meditation also increases the production of feel-good neurotransmitters such as serotonin. These neurotransmitters are necessary for maintaining a stable and majority positive mood. In combination, this effect on the brain helps to improve stress response – an aspect of mental health that enables an individual to cope with stressful situations more efficiently and with less damage to the mind and body.
This effect is also the reason why meditation is often recommended for the treatment of mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. Many studies, including one published in the medical journal The Lancet, indicate that meditation in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be just as effective in treating anxiety and depression as conventional antidepressant medication. Optimized stress response, increased gray matter and improved neurotransmitter production all contribute to an overwhelmingly positive effect on mental health.
Other Ways Meditation Contributes to Mental Health
In addition to altering brain structure and chemistry, meditation can also improve mental health in the following ways.
1. Meditation improves concentration.
Meditation improves your ability to concentrate on any given task. This helps to foster clarity and confidence as you are better able to focus on and sort through information. This can lead to more efficient problem-solving and creative thinking.
2. Meditation reduces stress.
Stress is typically the result of a potential future problem or worries over something that has already happened. By centering your concentration on the breath and present moment, meditation can help to reduce the experience and effect of stress.
3. Meditation boosts happiness.
Although this is undoubtedly intertwined with the production of feel-good neurotransmitters, regular meditators self-report increased happiness. This could also be the function of regularly carving out time for self-care and increased mental acuity.
How to Reap the Benefits of Meditation
Like many wellness practices, meditation is most beneficial when practiced consistently.
When starting a meditation practice for the first time, you may be surprised by how challenging it can be to sit in stillness for even a few minutes. Because of this, it can be best to start small. Begin with meditating for just five minutes every morning. From there, you can gradually work your way up to between ten and twenty minutes, which is considered to be an optimal amount of time.
Aim for seven days per week, but if you end up only fitting in four to five days, that is still fine. The key is to maintain a regular practice and to not feel discouraged if you miss a day or two. Some individuals may find taking a meditation class helpful. Taking a class can help you to identify the best type of meditation for your unique preferences. Class types to look into include Transcendental Meditation, which is the most popular, and other types such as Kundalini, Vipassana, or guided visualizations.
There are also many guided meditations available to you through platforms such as YouTube, or in apps that you can download onto your smartphone. Remember that any new habit can take time to implement and that the benefits to your mental health are well worth it.