To some, meditation may not seem like much: it’s a very passive activity practiced in solitude, often misunderstood in a culture filled with high-octane group fitness classes. Meditation is often sidelined as a tool for clearing the mind and relieving stress, while cardio and strength training activities take the credit for benefitting bodily health. The truth is, however, that both meditation and exercise can share an equal part in a person’s health and wellbeing. Taking a deep breath, releasing tension from the muscles, and calling the mind into focus can do so much more than stress relief.
Meditation Relieves Stress
It’s common for people to add meditation to their daily lives to help with stress management, and they most often find that this benefit is very real. What they don’t expect, however, is how much stress has been impacting the body as a whole and what the full effects of their meditation practice will soon become. Being in a state of stress encourages the body to release cortisol, a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal cortex. Having cortisol in the body, especially on a regular or constant basis, can cause physical problems over time like higher blood sugar levels, a suppressed immune system, and sometimes problems with metabolism regulation. Controlling stress through meditation has helped many people around the world with diseases, weight loss, and other disorders.
Even the most long-term cases of stress-induced cortisol in the body can be reversed with a persistent and committed meditation practice. The act of opening up the mind to relaxation, clearing your thoughts, and letting cleansing air deep into the lungs offer a release from that constant state of stress. Meditation forces a person to relax, rest, and be present in the moment. Although difficult to achieve true meditation at first, this process gets easier with time and practice. Those who stick to this relaxation method to manage their stress often evolve to a point where they can immediately go to their meditation mindset when stress threatens to intrude on their lives.
Meditation Boosts the Immune System
When the body is relaxed and the breath deepens during meditation, the experience can stimulate the immune system, activating certain protective genes that fight disease. According to recent studies at the Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a wide range of disease-fighting genes become active in the bodies of those who regularly practice medication. These genes all protect us from certain disorders, including pain, high blood pressure, types of arthritis, infertility, general inflammation, and even some forms of cancer. Benefits to the immune system and hormone production get even better with continued practice over consecutive weeks, months, and years. These findings could explain the importance placed on meditation, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques in holistic remedy practices in Indian Ayurveda and Tibetan medicine.
As mentioned above, the benefits of managing stress through mediation are manifested in a variety of physical ways. For some, blood pressure and heart rates lower, oxygen can move more freely through the body and improve skin tone, and even nerve pain and discomfort can be relieved over time. Meditation offers physical benefits to everyone who begins and continues to include it as part of their daily lives, though these benefits vary.
Meditation Heals the Mind
Stress isn’t the only emotional or mental state that can benefit from regular meditation. In fact, many psychologists and therapists often recommend meditation to their patients to help them heal their own emotional troubles. When we meditate, the mind is cleared of emotions and thoughts, giving us time to heal ourselves in a way. Your state of mind becomes something you can alter and change, because once you have the power to clear it away, you learn that you have the power to choose how you feel about different aspects of your life. In this way, meditation can be a very self-empowering practice that gives people the control over their emotions and the ability to choose positive thoughts over negative, optimism over cynicism. Sometimes referred to as emotional pollution, bad thoughts can be banished by choice once a person has grown in their meditative experiences.
Meditation Boosts Recovery
Beyond the helpful benefits that meditation can yield to our body and minds on an everyday basis, there are self-healing benefits to be found as well. For those struggling to recover from addictions, meditation is a powerful tool that helps an individual find the peace, calm, and mindfulness required to break the cycle. It can also help the body produce the hormones and natural chemicals needed to fill the void that addiction creates. Meditation also helps those who have struggled with long-term illnesses to find their center again and give the body the healing it needs.
Surgical patients, as well, have found that meditation can be an easy way to stimulate blood flow, healthy enzyme and hormone production, and trigger those pain-fighting genes. Pain medications, ice packs, and rest can take a patient part of the way back from a major surgery, but the meditative aspect should be present to ensure total healing inside and out. These self-repair mechanisms make up what is often referred to as the parasympathetic nervous system, the direct opposing force to the stress-induced sympathetic nervous system. When this force is activated in the body, healing can begin and the body can be both repaired and protected from future threats. The body’s natural healing energy is triggered by meditation and can give a powerful boost to an individual’s journey to recovery.