Fitness / Yoga

5 Benefits of Daily Meditation and How to Get Started

If you want to feel optimistic, focused, and rested, it’s time to start meditating a little bit every day.

Think of all the things you do on a daily basis in the name of health. You brush your teeth, eat your vegetables, exercise, get enough sleep, stay hydrated. Now, add meditation to the list. Before you raise your eyebrows, here’s why. Meditation is notorious for reducing stress, improving concentration, and curbing anxiety. Research indicates that it’s better to meditate a little bit every day versus once in a blue moon. And the benefits of daily meditation are numerous.

“I always tell students that a regular meditation practice helps you show up for life in the way you wish,” explains Canada-based yoga teacher Barrie Risman. “You’ll become more patient, more aware of what triggers you, and less reactive. You’ll be less likely to sweat the small stuff and more likely to see the big picture beyond the everyday drama. You’ll feel calmer, with a greater sense of control, and less likely to be overwhelmed by the demands of your day.”

Here are five benefits of daily meditation and how to get started.

Benefits of Daily Meditation

It can reduce stress, anxiety, and chronic pain.

Practicing daily meditation can reduce the inflammation response in the body caused by stress and decrease anxiety overall. This is particularly true for symptoms related to anxiety disorders and high-pressure work environments. It has also proved to lower anxiety levels from a long-term perspective, no matter the exact style or type of meditation. Additionally, experts say habitual meditation can lessen chronic pain for those suffering from conditions such as backaches, migraines, and tension headaches. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious, says Dr. Jodi Ashbrook, founder and CEO of ZenLeader, then meditation allows you to reset your central nervous system by connecting to your breath.

“Finding stillness in mediation provides an opportunity to slow down, to focus on our deep and mindful breath, and for our brains to relax,” says yoga instructor Melissa Okabe. “In doing so, daily mediation can help to reduce anxiety and stress. Imprinting positive habits of a meditative state provides a calm foundation to return to on the onset of stress. [It] promotes a less reactive approach even in stressful situations.”

It encourages better mental health and strengthens sense of self.

“One of the most profound benefits of meditation is that it helps people regulate their emotions,” says Dr. Sal Raichbach, a clinical psychologist with 24 years of experience. “Most people are so invested in their feelings that they don’t take them for what they are, just feelings. Emotions come and go. When we train ourselves to see these feelings as temporary, it is easier to let go of the negatives ones when they aren’t useful.”

Meditation boosts self-esteem, decreases depression, and supports positive thinking and optimism skills. Other studies suggest that meditation teaches you to recognize and denounce destructive or disheartening thoughts in favor of building more constructive and beneficial habits.

“If you’re feeling distracted or harboring negative feelings, meditation can enable you to shift your energy to gratitude, positivity, patience, and tangible goals that you are moving toward,” Ashbrook says.

You’ll likely experience better sleep.

A University of Minnesota study looked at the effects of meditation on individuals with insomnia. It found that their ability to fall and stay asleep significantly improved. In a similar study, people who meditated had better luck falling asleep sooner. They also stayed asleep longer compared to those who did not meditate.

“Meditation is a helpful practice to clear and quiet the mind,” Okabe says. “Practiced regularly, it can help to promote more restful sleep by slowing down the brain waves enough to actually fall asleep. Imagine a gardener tending to his garden to keep it clear of weeds. Likewise, when we meditate, it’s like gardening our minds. [We] start to slow down the chatter of the mind (the weeds) and sow a more nourishing internal environment.”

It can lower your blood pressure and improve heart health.

Through daily meditation, nerve signals that coordinate your fight-or-flight response are more relaxed. This reduces tension in your blood vessels and can help control blood pressure. These results seem to be more present in older adults and anyone who already experiences higher blood pressure, but it’s still a great side effect. Another study in the archives of Internal Medicine followed coronary heart disease patients who meditated for 16 weeks. In response, their blood pressure and heart rate variability improved drastically.

Your attention span and sense of focus perk up.

“Part of the meditative practice is training your mind to focus on a single object (or mantra). Let other outside thoughts pass through without attachment,” Okabe says. “Meditation practice can lead to more focused and longer attention spans.”

When you meditate, research says you can better remember details of task-oriented work while multitasking, reverse patterns of worrying or mind wandering, experience an increased attention span and quicker memory skills, and even fight age-related memory loss.

So, how long should you meditate every day to reap these benefits?

“Every individual will have a different answer. But as a starting point, try sitting for five controlled deep breaths and work your way up to one minute,” advises Aaptiv trainer Ceasar Barajas. “Then, maybe add 30-45 seconds per day or per meditation.”

If you’re brand new to meditation, Okabe says, just five minutes or so each day is a great place to begin. Think of it as pressing the reset button to orient your day in a positive way. It’s a chance to be still, calm, and reflective. More than anything, don’t force it, says yoga teacher and life coach Erin Wathen, because that’s the opposite of what meditation is all about.

“Set aside one to five minutes each morning. Get yourself into a comfortable position, and count your breath,” says yoga teacher Helen Sian India. “Breathe in to the count of three and out for five. Or do equal breathing (count in for four and out for four). And keep it simple! If your brain wanders, which it will, just bring it back to the breath. Imagine your thought floating away like a cloud. The most important thing is to have patience and compassion with yourself.”

For most people, Raichbach notes, it isn’t practical to spend hours each day meditating. So dedicating ten minutes daily is an ideal place to start. To stay consistent, he recommends setting a reminder on your phone for the time of day you want to meditate. Then you can adjust the length of time as necessary once you get comfortable doing it regularly.

What’s the best way to get started with daily meditation?

“Research has demonstrated meditation is very beneficial for stress levels and overall well-being,” says Alexis Conason, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist and researcher at Mount Sinai Medical Center. “You can reap the benefits of meditation with as little as five minutes per day of intentional meditation, or even less. Try to incorporate a realistic expectation around how much meditation you can do. And make it work with the way your life is now.”

Okabe likes to dedicate a specific time of day for daily meditation, whether it’s upon waking up or right before sleep, because that creates a habit. Raichbach also likes that approach, but he warns against anything that makes meditation feel like a chore. Instead, he recommends focusing on meditating when you think it’ll best serve you, such as during a long evening commute or first thing in the morning to start your day on a positive note. He also reminds people to forget any preconceived notions about meditation as an intimidating practice of deep contemplation or introspection. Rather, the goal is to return your mind to a state of mental calmness and peace.

“Remember, you already know how to breathe—it’s part of your standard packaging,” Barajas says. “Just remind yourself to do it at the same time every day. When you take a deep breath and slowly let it out, that’s meditation. Go from there.”

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