Meditation, often thought of as a path to self-awareness and compassion, can also be a path to better health. Practiced for thousands of years in Hindu, Buddhist, Zen/Chan and Taoist communities, people use meditation today to cope with stress and worry in a busy world. It can help bring calm and insight to people who often feel anxious.
Meditation refers to a set of techniques to enhance attention, emotional awareness, kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and mental calmness even in difficult situations. Some people find that regular meditation practice helps them be kind to themselves and more caring towards others. It can also teach you to be a little less reactive when tough situations arise.
10 reasons to meditate
Research has documented many health benefits of regular meditation practice. Here are 10 of them:
- Reduced stress: Meditation may decrease stress. It can also improve symptoms of stress-related conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and fibromyalgia.
- Improved memory: Better focus through regular meditation may increase memory and mental clarity. These benefits can help fight age-related memory loss and dementia.
- Increased attention: Meditation helps with attention span, allowing you to stay focused longer.
- Enhanced willpower: Meditation develops the mental discipline needed to avoid unhelpful habits.
- Better sleep: Meditation can shorten the time it takes to fall asleep and improve sleep quality.
- Less pain: Meditation can reduce pain and boost emotion regulation. Together with medical care, this may help treat chronic pain.
- Lower blood pressure: Blood pressure decreases during meditation and over time in people who meditate regularly. This can reduce strain on the heart and blood vessels and help prevent heart disease.
- Less anxiety: Regular meditation helps reduce anxiety. It can also help with mental health issues like social anxiety, fears and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
- Less depression: Meditation can help reduce the occurrence of depression.
- Greater compassion: Meditation can help you better understand yourself, find your best self, and increase positive feelings and actions toward others.
How to meditate
There are hundreds of different meditation techniques that vary from simple to more complex. It’s best to start with a simple practice that you can work into your regular routine over time. You can do this daily at the same time, even if it’s just a few minutes to start out. Over time, you will build discipline and skill with practice. Follow these steps for meditation:
- Sit or stand in a calm, quiet place with eyes closed or gaze down.
- Set a time limit, especially if you’re just starting out. It can be five or 10 minutes.
- Feel your body. Make sure you are stable and in a position you comfortably stay in the whole time.
- Focused attention practice: Focus your attention on your breathing in two ways. First, you can observe your torso expanding and contracting. Or you can feel the sensation of breath inside your nostrils with each inhalation and exhalation. When your breath focus is stable, you can shift to noticing thoughts, emotions, sensations, and sounds as they rise and dissolve in your mind.
- Notice when your mind wanders, which will happen. Don’t be hard on yourself when your mind goes elsewhere – just note where your mind drifted and then gently return your attention to your breath.
- Close with remembering our common humanity. Think this thought: “May I and all living beings be well, safe, nourished, and healthy.”
UC Davis Health offers stress management classes, which include practices in calming breathing and mind-quieting meditation.