Give peace a chance
If you ever have the feeling that you are on a perpetual treadmill, crossing things off ever-lengthening lists and never able to catch your breath, here’s one less thing to worry about: you’re not the only one living this way. Feelings of being overwhelmed, anxiety, and depression are all on the rise — as are physical conditions like cardiovascular disease, hypertension and immune decline, stoked by stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
The good news? Simple solutions like mindfulness meditation are available to provide peace in the midst of all that chaos: no drugs, no side effects, no complicated therapy. Read on, to learn what mindfulness meditation can do for you!
1. What is Mindfulness Meditation?
There are many different types of meditation, including Transcendental Meditation (TM), mindfulness training, mental relaxation exercises and progressive muscle relaxation techniques. Whether religious or secular in origin, most meditative practices share the same goals: quieting the mind, and helping you be in the present moment. Mindfulness meditation uses a finite period of time to help you focus on your breathing, observe your moods, and detach slightly from them. By allowing your competing emotions to exist without judgment, you gain peace and perspective.
2. Meditation and Longevity
Meditation has a history in many cultures and religions that goes back centuries. Since the mid-1980s, thanks to researchers like University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Jon Kabat-Zinn, it’s gained credibility as a way to reduce stress and anxiety, and boost relaxation, memory, focus, and concentration.
More recently, meditation has been examined with respect to longevity, and the results are promising. In two studies reviewed for the American Journal of Cardiology, each involving patients with mild hypertension, meditation was associated with significantly lower blood pressure in the short term, and remarkably lower mortality (30% less likely to die of cardiovascular disease, 49% less likely to die of cancer) during the average 7.6 years of follow-up. Researchers hope to establish over time which type and duration of meditation is most protective, as well as whether the effects of the practice are as dramatic for subjects with normal blood pressure.
3. Can Meditation Help You Lose Belly Fat?
More stress, more cortisol, more abdominal fat. It’s a mathematical equation that adds up to a greater risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and a weaker immune system. In 2011, researchers investigated whether meditating could interrupt this dangerous modern-day cycle, in a small study published in the Journal of Obesity. Subjects were coached on mindful eating practices like paying greater attention to food cravings, the taste of what they were eating, and their sense of fullness. At the end of the 4-month study period, the participants with the greatest improvement in mindful eating also had the greatest reductions in abdominal fat (up to 500g, or about one pound), even without an overall change in body weight. Further study will establish whether meditation alone can help shift dangerous fat away from the abdomen.
4. Try a Mindfulness Mini-Meditation
Knowing meditation is good for your mental and physical health is one thing; working it into a hectic schedule is quite another. Despite all the longevity benefits of meditation, a session can be the first thing that gets crossed off your to-do list when your day gets busy. (Which, in all likelihood, is just about every day.) Don’t despair!
Clinical psychologist Mark Williams of Oxford University and his colleagues have devised a brief mindfulness meditation to help you sample the practice. Called the “Three-Minute Breathing Space”, this session is easy, portable, and effective enough that you will find yourself looking for ways to work it in more regularly.
5. Meditation for Better Sleep
In 2012, a Consumers Reports magazine survey of 26,451 readers showed almost 60 per cent had trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep. While not a scientific poll, readers revealed several non-drug methods that helped them sleep more soundly, including meditation, yoga, progressive relaxation and deep-breathing exercises. While certain medications might be appropriate for insomnia, concerns have been raised about the long-term safety of such medications. A 2012 review published in the journal BMJ Open linked certain prescription sleep drugs with higher rates of cancer, though the pills were not shown specifically to have caused the cancers.
In 2008, more than 2,000 Consumers Reports readers — all self-described “problem sleepers” — said simple sound machines often worked as well as medications, to help them sleep more soundly.