What are the benefits of meditation and how long and often should you meditate to get the best return for your health?

For thousands of years now, meditation has been used as a tool to calm the body and mind, achieve optimal health, boost longevity and as a way to connect with our spirituality. This was long before the modern medical industry was established, meditators had already uncovered the myriad of advantages of this practice. In today’s world people are practicing less for spiritual purposes but rather, for its undeniable impact on mental, emotional and physical health. What are these advantages exactly and how long and often do we need to meditate for the reap the maximum benefits?

Meditation helps solve challenging problems, boosts your decision-making process and will increase your work productivity

Research has demonstrated time and time again how meditation improves our ability to effectively solve problems and make better decisions. This is due to the fact that meditation helps bring the mind, body and soul into a state of balance, increasing our sense of relaxation, and helping us take charge of our thoughts and emotions. Having such a clarity of mind, helps us to not only stay focused on the task at end but also, make the appropriate decisions which are required to successfully overcome the challenges thrown at us[1][2].

Get better at solving challenging problems and making decisions with a regular meditation practice
Get better at solving challenging problems and making decisions with a regular meditation practice

Meditation tames the monkey mind and helps us stay focused

A consistent meditation practice overtime teaches us how to remain focused by managing the “monkey mind” a colloquial term used to describe the “Default Mode Network”. It represents an interlinked network of brain regions that are activated when we are resting or not engaged in a cognitive task. It causes the brain to wander and go off on a tangent causing anxiety. Decreased Default Mode Networking activity is how meditators can stay more focused on the present even in the presence of a distracting environment[3][4]. Furthermore, because meditation absorbs us in the present moment, it encourages us to reach a ‘flow’ state whereby the mind is in total alignment with itself. Research conducted with the purpose of understanding the impact of an eight-week mindful meditation course had on people, revealed that those who meditated regularly had elevated attention and concentration spans. The study also showed that individuals who meditated even for shorter durations had more focus than those who did no meditation whatsoever[5].

Meditation is an amazing stress management technique

As humans when we come into contact with a real or perceived stressful situation, our brain reacts by activating our "fight or flight" response which causes the body to release high levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. In addition, we also begin to experience an exhilarating high because the hormone, adrenaline, is also being released from the adrenal glands into the body. These reactions ultimately lead to a rise in blood pressure and heart rate, cause sweaty palms and induce inverted breathing patterns. On the other hand, meditation helps to kick start a series of reactions that are opposite to what is experienced during the “fight or flight” response. In other words, it promotes a deepened state of relaxation whereby our breath slows down and becomes deeper, our heart rate and blood pressure decreases. In addition, meditation helps to reduce cortisol levels in the brain which ultimately helps to reduce overall stress[6][7]. Hence, it is no wonder why meditation is one of the most practiced and efficacious stress management techniques in the world.

Meditation is now being used worldwide to help individuals from all all walks of life manage stress
Meditation is now being used worldwide to help individuals from all all walks of life manage stress

The meditation and happiness connection

Many of us, in search of happiness, have begun a relentless pursuit for material wealth and goods. In doing so, we have lost the ability to be present in the moment which is arguably one of the keys to true happiness. 

 

This explanation came about when Harvard researcher Matt Killingsworth created the ‘Track Your Happiness’ app[8] in his quest to truly figure out what makes humans happy? His findings were fascinating. He discovered that humans are the happiest when they are able to live in the moment and the least happy when their minds begin to wander off. A huge pool of 15,000 participants took part in Kilingsworth's study, from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, differing levels of education, age, professions, civil status and from over 70 countries.

 

The idea behind the study was straightforward: at various random times during the day, participants were contacted via their mobile devices and were told to rate how content they were at that particular point in time, record what they were doing, and mention if their minds were wandering or not. Interestingly, it was discovered that what made people happy had not so much to do with the activity they were engaged in but rather, if their minds were fully present with the task on hand. Ultimately, it was found that mindful individuals were significantly happier than those whose minds had wandered off. You would also expect that people who allowed their minds to wander to positive thoughts would be happy right? False. People who let their minds wander off to positive things were better off than those who were constantly anxious and worrying but were nevertheless, still not as happy as individuals living in the moment[9]. Hence from this study, we can truly understand how mindful meditation can add more joy to our lives and promote happiness.

Mindfulness is a key skill for happiness
Mindfulness is a key skill for happiness

How long and often should you meditate for?

When we talk about meditation there are two things that impact how effective it can be for a person. One, consistency and two, the duration of the meditation session. A consistent meditator is someone who meditates daily. This is critical for people looking to build up momentum and train their minds to be mindful[10][11][12].

 

With regards to the duration of each session, we recommend starting off nice and easy with a brief session of just 3 to 5 minutes a day. This is especially critical if you have never meditated before. Daily for 3 minutes is much better than once a week for 21 minutes. Over the course of the next 3 months, you should gradually increase the duration to 15 or 20 minutes a day as your mind gets used to being in a meditative state. 15 minutes should be your baseline as it is the minimal amount of time needed for busy, overworked and stressed out individuals to relax. If you choose to continue with shorter sessions, it will take you longer to reap the full benefits of meditation.

 

To your health, happiness and longevity,

 

The Levitise Team

 

P.S. If you love this blog post then do check out our fortnightly newsletter where you'll get the freshest content on health, nutrition and fitness delivered straight to your inbox. Don't miss out and sign up here with just your name and email. 

References

1. The effectiveness of tai chi, yoga, meditation, and reiki healing sessions in promoting health and enhancing problem solving abilities of registered nurses, 2007. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01612840701581255

2. Meditation promotes insightful problem-solving by keeping people in a mindful and alert conscious state, 2011. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11427-011-4233-3

3. Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity, 2011. https://www.pnas.org/content/108/50/20254.short

4. Meditation leads to reduced default mode network activity beyond an active task, 2015. https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13415-015-0358-3

5. Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention, 2007. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17672382

6. Effects of mindfulness meditation on serum cortisol of medical students, 2013. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237000759_Effects_of_mindfulness_meditation_on_serum_cortisol_of_medical_students

7. Effect of buddhist meditation on serum cortisol and total protein levels, blood pressure, pulse rate, lung volume and reaction time, 1991. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/003193849190543W

8. Track Your Happiness app, https://www.trackyourhappiness.org/

9. Wandering mind not a happy mind, 2010. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/

10. Regular, brief mindfulness meditation practice improves electrophysiological markers of attentional control, 2012. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2012.00018/full

11. Natural stress relief meditation as a tool for reducing anxiety and increasing self-actualization, 2009. https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/sbp/sbp/2009/00000037/00000003/art00003

12. Brief meditation training can improve perceived stress and negative mood, 2007. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6520477_Brief_meditation_training_can_improve_perceived_stress_and_negative_mood

Love it? Share it...

Write a comment

Comments: 0