Using Meditation to Improve Your Mind – and Body

Emily Kelley-Brown, MPH, RD, Arivale Coach
Emily Kelley-Brown
MPH, RD, Arivale Coach

Does the word “meditation” conjure up images of darkened rooms full of chanting people – or perhaps a guru levitating in the air?

For many, meditation seems like an exclusive practice that’s difficult to translate to real life. You might be surprised, then, to learn that not only can meditation be flexible to fit your life, but its benefits extend to both mental and physical health.

No matter what your health goals, meditation could be a beneficial cornerstone of your wellness routine.

The Mind-Body Benefits of Meditation

Meditation calms the mind and body so you can be fully present in the moment. The quiet space created allows you to observe your thoughts and feelings without judgement. This might be particularly helpful if you want to reduce stress or struggle with negative self-talk. It may also help to alleviate stress and anxiety1,2.

Meditation can have physical benefits as well. In fact, research has found that regular meditation can contribute to improvements in blood pressure1,3, inflammation4, and immune function2 and even aid in pain management5.

Regular meditation practice may also alter the gray matter in the regions of your brain associated with learning, memory, and emotion while supporting neuroplasticity6.

If meditation were a pill, it would sound too good to be true. It offers a variety of benefits for your physical and emotional well-being – all with no side effects!

Making Meditation Part of Your Wellness Routine

A successful meditation practice is not one size fits all. Take time to try different methods and find one that works for you. Methods include transcendental meditation, heart rhythm meditation, Kundalini, and guided visualization.

One method you may have heard of is mindfulness meditation, which involves paying attention to the present moment, deliberately and non-judgmentallyMindfulness, which is one of the most studied forms of meditation, has been shown to have many mental and physical benefits5,6. It can be applied to different scenarios, such as mindful eating, in which you experience a food with each of your senses. This process can increase meal satisfaction and reduce overeating7.

Interested in beginning a meditation routine? The first step is to find a time of day where you can commit to a regular practice: mornings before work, afternoons during lunch, or evenings before bed may all be good options. How much time can you regularly commit to? While you might see the most benefit with a 60-minute session, it’s okay to start shorter, as benefits in many studies are seen with as little as 10 to 15 minutes of regular meditation. The key is to do it regularly; once or twice per week is less likely to show clear benefits.

Especially short on time? Even a quick deep-breathing exercise like this can provide benefit. (If you have a Fitbit, it even has a deep-breathing feature to make it even easier!)

In terms of where to meditate, seek out a private, quiet place with comfortable seating or a clean floor to lay on. It may feel awkward to start, but it will become easier and more natural with consistency.

Still not sure how to start a meditation practice? Guided audio meditation apps, such as Headspace or Insight Timer, are often an easy place to begin. If you want to dive deeper, you can also choose to take a meditation course.

Meditation is a skill that needs regular practice. Think of this as another building block in your wellness routine, much like healthy eating and exercise.

References:

  1. Rainforth, M. V., Schneider, R. H., Nidich, S. I., Gaylord-King, C., Salerno, J. W., & Anderson, J. W. (2007). Stress Reduction Programs in Patients with Elevated Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Current Hypertension Reports, 9(6), 520–528
  2. Elissa S. Epel, et al. (2016). Meditation and vacation effects impact disease-associated molecular phenotypes. Translational Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1038/tp.2016.164
  3. Brook, Robert D., et al. (2013). Beyond Medications and Diet: Alternative Approaches to Lowering Blood Pressure. Hypertensionhttps://doi.org/10.1161/HYP.0b013e318293645f
  4. Creswell, J. David et al. (2016). Alterations in Resting-State Functional Connectivity Link Mindfulness Meditation With Reduced Interleukin-6: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Biological Psychiatry, Volume 80, Issue 1, 53 – 61
  5. Zeidan F, Adler-Neal AL, Wells RE, et al. (2016). Mindfulness-meditation-based pain relief is not mediated by endogenous opioids. Journal of Neuroscience. 2016;36(11):3391-3397
  6. Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research, 191(1), 36–43. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006
  7. Katterman SN, Kleinman BM, Hood MM, Nackers LM, Corsica JA. (2014). Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: A systematic review. Eating Behaviors. April 2014. 15(2):197-204