They always say there’s two types of people in this world: the man of art, and the man of science. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind which side of that coin I fall on. I support science 100 percent. Simple.
Or is it? Until recently, the whole ‘man of art/man of science’ debate has been crystal clear to me. It’s been an issue that, from my point of view, was completely black and white. That is, until a friend asked me about my thoughts on meditation. For the very first time, I had to question everything I believe in.
You see, I’ve always thought of meditation as hocus pocus. Honestly, I’m not interested in spirituality, or the whole ‘emotional awakening’ thing that meditation is supposed to deliver. What I am interested in is the facts and, somewhat surprisingly, the facts show that meditation can actually be pretty remarkable!
In my journey to learn more, I discovered these 11 science-backed benefits of meditation:
1. Improves Your Posture
If you’re guilty of being a sloucher (I’ll hold my hand up here), the NHS says that one of the best things you can do to improve your posture is stretching exercises. I thought meditation was about sitting cross-legged with your arms bent, but there’s loads of meditation poses that gently stretch the body.
‑ Sitting with a straight back, stretching from your tummy to the top of your head
‑ Standing with your feet slightly apart, gently bending your knees
‑ Kneeling, keeping your back straight and trying to stretch your body upwards
‑ Lying flat, trying to push down so that your back is flat against the floor
For kneeling and lying down meditation poses, a mat can make meditation more comfortable. I like to keep costs down so I use vouchers where I can, like this Eve Mattress discount code for yoga mats.
2. Helps You Relax
One of the main reasons people meditate is to reduce stress, but does it work?
Believe it or not, yes!
It’s understood that meditation’s close connection with mindfulness can improve psychological state and make people feel calmer and more relaxed. Meditation Awareness Training, or MAT, is best for this.
MAT is a Buddhist-style meditation technique. You can practice Buddhist meditation by:
1) Focusing on your breathing and maintaining a steady, deep breathing pace
2) Thinking of the present, not of what has been, or what may be in the future
3) Acknowledging any thoughts that pop into your head, but not thinking about them
3. Gives You a Glow
Collagen is responsible for keeping the skin fresh, bouncy, and elasticated, but our bodies produce less collagen (and poorer quality collagen) when we’re stressed out. If meditation can help us to stay calm and relaxed, then adding meditation to your beauty regime could have some pretty amazing results!
4. Keeps You Healthy
I’m not the biggest believer in ancient medicine, but I do think that these beliefs had to have come from somewhere. Although I’m not yet convinced that horse saliva can boost our sexual desires (yep, horse slobber really was a cure for low libido!), there is pretty solid evidence that meditation has a positive effect on the immune system, making us better equipped to fight off disease and keeping us healthy.
5. Provides Natural Pain Relief
If you’ve done any research on pain, you’ll know it’s a pretty complicated area. You see, the thing with pain is that it’s not always a physiological problem. It often starts out physiological, but the brain becomes so used to receiving these pain signals that it continues to deliver a pain response… even when the source of the pain has actually gone! In some cases, pain can be more of a psychological problem.
The good news is that the close relationship between psychology and meditation, especially mindful meditation, means that meditation can be used to stop the brain from sending these pain responses when they’re not needed, offering a sort of natural pain relief and helping you to feel much better.
6. Makes You Feel Good About Yourself
The same research study which found that meditation can be great for pain relief also found that a 10-week meditation programme can result in better self esteem and a more positive body image. What’s more, these good feelings can last for more than a year (up to 15 months) following meditation training!
7. Keeps You Focused
If you’re constantly losing track of what you need to be doing, or if you’re always walking into a room and forgetting what you’ve gone in for, meditation may be able to help. Just 4 days (yes, 4 days!) of meditation can boost ‘visual coding’; the way the brain processes and absorbs visual information. This makes it easier to concentrate, helps you to become more focussed, and hones your attention skills.
8. Boosts Your Social Skills
There is one form of meditation that experts claim can help you to feel more socially connected to those around you: loving kindness meditation. Research suggests that this particular type of meditation can reduce feelings of social distrust and isolation and make you feel more positive towards other people.
Loving-kindness meditation is often practiced by Buddhists, who call it ‘metta’ meditation. In Tibet, it is also called ‘shinay’ meditation. Here are 4 easy steps to practicing loving-kindness meditation at home:
1) Sit or stand in a very comfortable position (metta meditation is all about feeling good!)
2) Focus on your chest area, especially the area around your heart
3) Breathe in and out, as if you were breathing from your chest, rather than your nose or mouth
4) Think of yourself, and of others, as you wish for happiness, health, and freedom
9. Makes You a Smarty Pants
While meditation alone may not be enough to get you on University Challenge, it does help strengthen the brain, according to researchers. Meditation can help you develop a better memory, and make it easier for the brain to process information, boosting brain power. Even better, meditation could make you a better decision maker; great for those days when you can’t choose between pizza and chippy!
10. Helps You to do it all
Ever feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day? Join the club! If only we didn’t need to sleep, right? Well, although meditation isn’t quite a miracle worker, experts say that our bodies may require less sleep if we meditate regularly. They say it all comes down to the ‘performance boost’ of meditation.
11. Gives You a Creative Flair
Don’t subject your poor uncle to yet another pair of socks this Christmas… be more creative! If you’re struggling to think of ideas, just meditate! It seems that meditation makes us more flexible and diverse thinkers, opening up the dam and letting those creative juices flow free. Perhaps a nice tie this year?
And so there we have it. Of all the possibilities that could have had me questioning the ‘man of art/man of science’ debate, it was meditation that’s blurred those boundaries for me. Sure, meditation is very much a traditional technique, and one which shouldn’t make much sense scientifically, but it does!
You don’t need to believe in the spiritual world to believe in the benefits of meditation. Everyone can meditate, and everyone can see advantages. Give it a try. You never know what you’re missing out on!