Meditation Can Improve Your Life
Imagine for a moment…
You walk into a room full of people sitting on the floor, a swirl of woody incense captivates your senses. Various brightly coloured fabrics have been placed atop one another, blanketing the floor. Despite the dim lighting and drawn curtains, you sense an energy and lightness in the room. Everybody is quiet, their eyes closed. A women at the front of the room gestures for you to sit. She has a slender frame yet a big presence.
Welcome to your first meditation session.
There is a common thread throughout history of people reaching out to spiritual leaders in order to help them achieve a more profound spiritual connection; both within themselves and more outwardly to their surrounds.
Modern day meditation leaders – or gurus – have only really become popular in the west in the last 100 years or so.
There are many different types of meditation, such as sound based meditation, mindfulness-based stress reduction, zen, transcendental meditation and yoga. What links all these variations together are their common benefits. Here are 7 of those benefits now.
Our top 7 benefits of meditation
1) Meditation reduces stress
Meditation helps to calm the mind and slow the swirl of thoughts and worries that many of us deal with on some level. When you consider the increasing dependence on and use of anti-anxiety medications, it’s no wonder more and more people are turning to meditation to cope with stress. Meditation allows people to take charge of their breathe, their thoughts and ultimately to reduce their levels of stress. As your practice develops, it becomes easier to limit distracting thoughts and you’ll experience a sense of inner peace.
2) It makes you feel happy
Recent research (Lutz et al. 2004) has shown that brain activity in the left prefrontal cortex increases during meditation. This region of the brain is responsible for positive emotions. This research demonstrates a link between meditation and happiness and that mental training can induce short-term and long-term neural changes.
3) It improves concentration
As you relax deeper into your meditation practice you enjoy more focused levels of concentration. Your concentration will sharpen and focus in on subtle sensations such as feelings on the tip of the nose or when your breath first enters and last leaves your body. This can be applied to daily life as the discipline that comes with meditation can be used as a tool in daily life.
4) It slows your breathing and allows for mindfulness
By focusing on your breathing as an ‘object of concentration’, you realise just how easy it is for your mind to wander off. The discipline of breathing and meditation keeps your thoughts focused and grounded in the present. Eventually you won’t have to ‘concentrate’ so hard on breathing or keeping your mind free from distracting thoughts. This is where concentration gives way to mindfulness.
5) Reduces social anxiety
Social anxiety is the fear of interaction with other people that brings on self- consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and evaluated. Mindfulness based stress reduction programs (that involve meditation, yoga and body awareness) have been used to reduce stress and anxiety, increase relaxation and make improvements to quality of life in people suffering from anxiety. This study showed improvement in anxiety and depression symptoms and self-esteem using meditation.
6) Leads to deeper levels of relaxation
Meditation helps promote the relaxation response – a state of deep rest that is the opposite of a state of stress. Relaxation reduces stress levels and provides a balance to your body, muscles and mind. The relaxation response is characterised by:
- decreased heart rate
- slower, more focused breathing
- muscle relaxation
- blood pressure drops
- your muscles relax
- feelings of well being
7) Increases serotonin
Meditation increases serotonin levels in the body. Studies have found that certain meditation techniques likely increase concentrations of serotonin. It’s important to remember that a variety of neurotransmitters and their reactions produce many of the emotions we experience.
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- Lutz et al, 2004. ‘Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice’ PNAS vol 101 no.46.
Goldin PR, Gross JJ 2010. ‘Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder’ EmotionFeb;10(1):83-91.
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