I lived in a beach town for a couple years. It was pretty nice because I was literally a mile from the beach. I could go there on a lunch break and often I did. I would hop into the car and head down, find a parking spot, and sit and stare at the waves while I ate my sandwich. Usually I only had 15-20 minutes but it really helped me to focus and organize my priorities.
For days after my little mental clearing sessions, I always felt relaxed and it was as if my troubles melted away. I genuinely found myself saying to a lot of day to day stresses 'it's just not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things'. I also found myself less concerned about the materialistic nature of modern life. After seeing the simple beauty of the world around me, things like what car I drove or what clothes I was wearing just didn't seem as important. In short, I felt more grounded and connected to my own life, as if I had control over it.
That's when I realized the therapeutic value of taking the time to clear my head. Call it meditation, but just 15 minutes a few times a week can help you to realign your goals, and help you put things in check that seem too tough to tackle. Now I am not the type to sit down and stare at a spot on the wall in a more formal type of meditation, but scientists seem to agree that this habitual process of training your mind to focus and prioritize your thoughts can really bring about an overall improvement in the quality of life. Just look at these health benefits of meditation:
Reduced Stress and Better Sleep
Meditation has been shown to reduce the stress hormone cortisol. By reducing this inflammatory response in the body, scientists have found that participants saw an improvement in symptoms of stress-related conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and fibromyalgia. They also had decreased blood pressure, cloudy thinking, and increased energy probably because they slept better. Those who meditated were able to fall asleep sooner and sleep longer. Better sleep can give your body time to recuperate from gym time, or just the daily grind.
Meditation can also lead to an improved self-image and more positive outlook on life, as well as a more positive mood. This was my biggest take away from my sessions. By developing a stronger understanding of yourself, you can develop creative thinking patterns and weigh the outcomes of your actions which helps to stop self defeating actions that may be keeping you from achieving your goals. Taking the time to invest a few minutes of your day to meditate can pay off in your overall outlook.
Scientists also saw an increase in brain electrical activity in those who meditated. This activity is a vital part of pain perception and pain management since it is tied to your state of mind and mood. Basically, if you are feeling stressed, things will seem to hurt more. In MRI scans of those who meditated, the increased electrical activity was in pain control centers of the brain which means the practitioners had less sensitivity to pain and a decrease in complaints of chronic or intermittent pain.
Meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety symptoms and helps to address anxiety disorders such as phobias, social anxiety, paranoid thoughts, obsessive-compulsive behaviors and panic attacks. It seems that a little inward reflection helps us to better understand and deal with those around us.
Just a few minutes per day of meditation helped participants increase the strength and endurance of their attention span. This is a big problem for me, and many others, as the chaotic world we live in seems to draw or attention to 10 different things at once. Even at work, we are trying to answer phones, check work email, personal email, etc. Taking a few minutes to think about one think at a time actually allows you better cope with all of the things flying at you during the day.
Fights Memory Loss
Many of us have known an elderly person who lost the ability to think clearly or became forgetful, so improving your attention span through meditation could keep age-related memory loss in check Meditation can help you better remember tasks and keep your mind young.
Fights Addictive Behaviors
By spending time looking inward, you can identify the triggers of your addictive behaviors. That could be over eating, drinking, drugs, or even obsessive compulsive disorders like hoarding or collecting too much stuff. Reducing these dependencies is possible by increasing willpower and finding healthier things to focus your attention on. One study of alcoholics who were taught to meditate found that they were able to control their cravings and the stress of wanting to drink. Another study showed that binge eaters could better control their emotional response to food.
As you can see, meditation could be a stepping stone to achieving things you find to hard to conquer. But you don't need to feel like you need to sit down and stare off for long periods of time: start off with just 5 minutes a day where you place yourself in a quiet environment free of distractions. Sometimes on a lunch break I will go sit in my car. Sometimes I will listen to music, other times I find that silence is better. I don't live by the beach anymore so sometimes I will go sit on my back porch and watch the trees sway in the wind. Its the same principle.It doesn't cost a dime to spend a few minutes thinking about where I am, where I want to be, and how I am going to get there. I hope you see the value in a little alone time as well.
Jeremy Wright is a self-described opinionated bastard. Follow him on Facebook.