What if I told you that there was something you could do for 10 to 20 minutes a day that would leave you feeling more relaxed and less anxious, build up your memory retention and attention to detail, increase feelings of empathy, support your immune system and even foster a healthy blood pressure? Would you be down? Totally, right? Great news, mindfulness meditation can do all that and more! And it’s a simple (and free) addition to your self care routine!
Let’s talk about what mindfulness meditation is, how it works and how you can take advantage of all it has to offer:
Why I Meditate
If you told me six years ago that I’d be a healthy foodie that adores yoga and meditation I’d roll my eyes at you and happily continue chugging my pop and stuffing my face with ice cream. I seriously thought that meditation was a little too woo-ish for me.
In middle school I had the opportunity to give it a try and I giggled throughout the entire session. My opinion hadn’t changed much by my early twenties.
But then Graves Disease knocked me off my feet and I was ready to re-examine my life and support my well-being in any way possible. I remembered that meditation was associated with stress relief. And boy, did I ever need help in that department (learning to live with an incurable illness isn’t easy!) So I decided to give it another chance. I’ve never regretted it!
Over the years meditation has become so much more than a go-to stress relieving activity.
And while many factors play a role in my ability to thrive with Graves Disease, meditation has definitely played an important one.
During a relapse, I’ve used it as a tool to focus my mind on my medication easing my symptoms. I’ve also used it to focus on my brain-thyroid connection or my immune system relaxing and halting it’s attack on my body (visualization is pretty powerful guys!)
It’s also an opportunity to focus on a mantra that inspires me, grounds me or brings me joy. Or to check in with myself and pay attention to how my body feels. It’s even a chance to simply disconnect for a few minutes and be in the present moment.
Meditation is a tool that has helped me relax and reduce anxiety while navigating the ups and downs of living with an autoimmune disease. And it’s even helped to support my immune health and cardiovascular system.
Pretty awesome, eh? Well guess what! Mindfulness meditation has a lot to offer you too! And it’s pretty simple to give it a try.
Even if you’re in perfect health and your stress levels are low, you still have a lot to gain from meditation.
Let me show you all the goodness it has to offer:
What Exactly is Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is one of the oldest and most traditional forms of meditation. The purpose is to focus the mind on the present. You can do this by focusing on one specific thought like a mantra or even just paying attention to your breathing. You can also focus simply on your body and its surroundings, centering your mind on your senses and the present moment.
The goal is to do this for at least 10 minutes. It can centre you, help you relax and aid you in finding your own inner strength.
It sounds super simple, right? I mean… sitting around for 10 minutes isn’t so hard. But it’s not as easy as you might think. In a world where we are constantly bombarded with information and tackling a never ending to do list, sitting back and focusing on one thing can be difficult.
But it’s really important for our mental well-being that we add downtime to our self care routine. And mindfulness meditation is a pretty fantastic place to start.
The best part? Practice makes perfect!
You can easily make mindfulness meditation part of your regular self care routine. And the more you do it, the easier it will become.
But does it actually help? Science says YES!
Here are some of the awesome things that we’ve discovered about meditation:
Meditation Can Help to Reduce Anxiety
Life can be pretty stressful and we all need a repertoire of stress managing activities that we can turn to. Meditation is one spectacular option. One study even found that meditating can reduce anxiety by as much as 39%! While that number is pretty cool all by itself, what’s cooler is that that’s just as effective as some prescription anxiety medications.
This study discovered that mindfulness meditation activates the Anterior Cingulate Cortex, a part of the brain that controls thinking and emotion, and the Ventromedial Prefontal Cortex, which controls worrying. These two babies working together help to reduce anxiety, leaving you feeling more relaxed.
Super bonus! Meditation may also lower cortisol levels, a hormone that’s associate with mental and physical stress (source). Which means an even more relaxed you. Booyah!
You’ll Be More Focused
It’s not surprising that focusing on mindfulness actually helps you learn to be, well, more focused. People who meditate have better working memories and attention spans than those who don’t. They even outperform their non-meditating counterparts on tests (source 1, source 2).
One big reason why meditation helps is because giving our brain a break and focusing on doing nothing productive helps us to become more focused. All that goodness leads to better concentration and memory retention, which is pretty freaking awesome!
On top of that, meditation might increase the levels of gyrification in the brain. Weird word, I know! But it’s just fancy talk for the folding of the cerebral cortex, which means our brains may process information faster (source). How cool is that?!
Your Immune System Will Thank You
Your immune system has to kick some serious butt! And anything that supports it’s fantastic mission is pretty wonderful. As an autoimmune disease warrior, I’m always excited to give my immune system a helping hand – but it’s something we should all be conscious about.
Meditation can have some interesting effects on your immune function. This study showed that experienced meditators had positive shifts in genes involved in fighting viral infection. And novice and expert meditators showed positive shifts in the gene expressions associated with stress, inflammation and wound healing.
Even cooler, they also saw an increase in telomerase in experienced meditators. This little enzyme is involved in building telomeres, the tiny mechanisms that sit at the end of our chromosomes and prevent them from unraveling. Telomeres naturally get shorter over time. Shorter telomeres are associated with aging but also play a role in many chronic illnesses. Supporting your telomeres helps to support your well-being. And meditation’s potential aid in the telomere department is pretty freaking amazing!
According to Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, a Harvard University Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Child Neurology and Mental Retardation, “Meditation is one of the ways to engage in restorative activities that may provide relief for our immune systems, easing the day-to-day stress of a body constantly trying to protect itself. The prediction is that this would then lead to healthier aging.” (source)
Sounds like we have nothing to lose and a ton to gain, doesn’t it?
You’ll Foster a Healthy Blood Pressure
Your blood pressure is kind of a big deal! And a high blood pressure can increase your risk of stroke, heart attacks and even kidney failure. It can also narrow and block your arteries, and strain and weaken your organs. So we should all be pretty motivated to keep our blood pressure happy and healthy.
And meditation is one way to help (along with a healthy diet, active lifestyle and regular medical check ups). Why does it help? If your first thought is stress management, you’re not exactly wrong… but meditations ability to support a healthy blood pressure extends a little further than that.
Mindfulness meditation may also result in an increase of nitric oxide, which helps to dilate your blood vessels, lowering your blood pressure (source). Isn’t that amazing? Dr. Randy Zusman, director of the hypertension program at Massachusetts General Hospital, even prescribes meditation, along with medication, to his hypertension patients (source). It’s potential to help is simply too good to ignore!
Meditation Even Breeds Empathy
A long term meditation practice can help to build greater levels of empathy. This is so wonderful as it helps us to build a better understanding of those who surround us and respond in more compassionate ways. And that can even help us to build more meaningful relationships, which is a pretty cool win in my books!
Scientist saw that we are more likely to see this benefit if we choose to focus on feelings of love, compassion and/or understanding when we meditate. And in one study one expert Buddhist monk’s fMRI revealed that the area of their brain linked to empathy light up more than non-meditators when they heard people in distress.
Why is this so awesome?
We could all use a more compassion! I really think the world would be a better place if we all cared about each other a little more. And hey, if mindfulness meditation can help make this happen, I think we should all get on board! We’ve certainly got nothing to lose!
So How Do You Do It?
1. Find a quiet place.
2. Close your eyes and take deep breaths. In through the nose and out through the mouth.
3. Choose a focus. For example:
Pay attention to your body and its surroundings, focusing on your senses and the present moment. I personally love to meditate outside and focus on the feeling on the wind on my skin.
Check in with your body and focus on how it feels.
Pay attention to your breathing. The feeling of your rib cage expanding and contracting as you fill and empty your lungs.
Focus on a mantra of your own choosing (ex: “I love and accept myself as I am”, “I am so grateful”)
4. If you notice your mind wandering be kind and patient with yourself and gently return to your focus. Allow your thoughts to arise as they are, acknowledge them and let them go.
Learning to be more mindful can take some time and effort.
But I have some good news for you! Meditation is all about letting go. There is no need to be perfect at it and there’s no overarching objective. Honestly, there’s absolutely no pressure at all – which means you can take all the time you need to find your way.
This is an opportunity to step back from the constant buzz of information and over-stimulation and simply be. Try to work up to 10 to 20 minutes a day, but don’t berate yourself if you miss a day (or even a few weeks). Just pick up where you left of and keep going whenever you can. This is a safe space free of judgement or the need for perfection. All you have to do is start!
It doesn’t take long to reap the benefits of a meditation practice. And the only thing you need to start is you! So why not give it a go today?
Are you ready to create your own mindfulness meditation practice? Have you tried it before? Let me know about your experiences in the comments below!
And if you need a little help working meditation into your self care routine, get your hands on a free self care planner right here (or click the photo below). You deserve a self care routine that makes you feel awesome!
Health and love,
Thought of the day: I will make myself and my well-being a priority.
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