Believe it or not, there are science-backed reasons as to why meditation and mindfulness are helpful. In this guide, I’m going to share 10 reasons, explain how your body is affected and give you tools to start a meditation practice and to become more mindful in your day to day.
What is Meditation & Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a non-judgmental awareness of and focus on the present moment. Meditation is the practice of focused, mindful attention on an “object of meditation.” The practice of meditation teaches you to become more mindful; and the practice of mindfulness improves your ability to meditate. It’s a practice of training your mind to become still; and it takes time!
“My mind won’t stop racing when I try to meditate.” ~said every meditator at some point
Science backed reasons for meditation and mindfulness
In order to understand how meditation and mindfulness are helpful, you must first understand how the mind and body work together.
Stress activates the brain and spinal cord’s sympathetic nervous system function known as “Fight/Flight/Freeze,” which releases stress hormones (i.e. adrenaline & cortisol) into the bloodstream. While helpful when running from a tiger, this process has become problematic in modern times with increasing demands and over-stimulating tech. Many people today are constantly bombarded with stress, living in a CHRONIC state of Fight/Flight/Freeze. Overactivation of the sympathetic nervous system leads to chronic inflammation in the body, which lowers immunity and leads to illness and chronic mental and physical health conditions. The parasympathetic nervous system functioning, AKA “Rest & Digest,” combats the effects of the stress hormones by releasing relaxation hormones into the bloodstream (i.e. serotonin & dopamine). Meditation and mindfulness practices turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, which leads to many health benefits including the following:
- Decreased stress/anxiety
- Improved mood
- Improved sleep
- Improved immune system functioning
- Lowered blood pressure
Additionally, meditation and mindfulness improve your ability to regulate your emotions over time. With practice, you will find that you are able to much more easily shift your mind from negative thoughts and emotions to positive ones, which also leads to:
- Emotional resilience
- Improved focus
- Improved memory
- Pain management
Mindfulness practices to integrate into your day:
- Mindful Breathing
- Take a moment to connect with your breath, becoming aware of its rhythm, temperature, and depth
- Mindful Eating
- Eat in silence, disconnected from tech
- Notice the taste, texture, and smell of your food
- Take a Mindful Walk
- Walk in silence, disconnected from tech
- Notice the sights, sounds, and smells around you (maybe smell a flower/touch a tree)
- Mindful Discussions
- Take a moment to reflect before responding
- Consider the other person’s point of view
- Body Scan
- Scan your body from head to toe, noticing how each body part feels
- When you notice any tension, allow yourself to relax that body part
- Repeat a phrase/positive affirmation for a few minutes (i.e. “I am loved” while brushing your teeth or “I am healthy and happy” while doing the dishes)
Start a daily meditation practice, beginning with just 5 minutes a day!
Get your zen on now with these 8 simple steps:
1. Find a quiet and comfortable space and set a soft timer.
2. Sit comfortably with an erect spine on a cushion with legs criss-crossed and hips higher than knees; or in a chair with both feet on the ground.
3. Close your eyes or maintain a relaxed open gaze.
4. Relax your muscles, scan the body for tension and release any holds.
5. Begin focusing on the natural inhale and exhale of your breath through the nostrils.
6. While maintaining a balanced breath in and out the nostrils, begin to focus your mind on an object of meditation. The following are examples:
- The breath flowing in and out
- Imagined image (i.e. the sun, symbol, a flower)
- Repeated phrase paired with the breath (i.e. breathe in “let,” breathe out “go,” or single words paired with the breath (i.e. breathe in “peace,” breathe out “stress”
- You can also experiment with visualization (i.e. breathing peaceful light in and breathing gucky stress out)
- Maintain a relaxed open eye gaze on a physical object of meditation (i.e. candle flame, an image, natural setting)
7. When uninvited thoughts, emotions, and images come to mind, you can imagine a fly swatter swatting them away or that they are like bubbles floating away. Over time you will become more adept at shifting your focus from the uninvited guests back to your designated object of meditation.
8. Once your timer goes off, take a moment to notice how you feel.
About the Author: Jaclyn Sappah is a licensed clinical social worker practicing in California, New York, and North Carolina. Jaclyn uses a variety of therapeutic interventions (i.e. psychotherapeutic, health and wellness, yoga therapy, and energy healing) with clients as well as offers exercises and tools to practice between sessions. Learn more about her specialities, read more of her content, or get in touch by viewing her Frame profile here.