Is meditation just a new-age spiritual fad or a real, science-backed practice? If that’s’ a question you’ve found yourself asking, you’ll want to read on. We’re about to breakdown the purpose of meditation, and the science that says we’re right.
Ready? Let’s have a look.
What Is Meditation All About?
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Meditation is the act of focussing your mind, with intention. You might focus on counting the breath or bring awareness to the slight sensations against your skin.
The idea is to focus, and if thoughts come into your head – which they will – to observe them without judgment.
If you’ve never tried meditation, you might have the impression of it as the art of thinking of nothing. That’s not the case. Sometimes people feel like they ‘fail’ at meditation because they can’t clear their minds of all thoughts.
It’s mostly the Tibetan monks and Indian yogis get to these heady levels, not your average Joe on his yoga mat at home each morning before work. You might try breathing, mantras, even yoga, as ways of staying focussed – just don’t expect to have a ‘blank’ mind when you meditate.
What Is the Purpose of Meditation?
Meditation is the practice of increasing mental clarity and focus. You do that by redirecting your thoughts. What this does, over time, is increase your awareness of yourself, your emotional experience, and your surroundings.
The practice involves stopping future worries and past regrets by redirecting thoughts only to inputs in the present. This can decrease stress.
In a world where we go about 6 minutes before looking for distraction on our smartphones, meditation becomes an exercise in improving concentration.
Some specific goals you can achieve whole or in part through meditation are:
1. Decrease Blood Pressure
A study found that when volunteers meditated using a silent mantra their blood pressure dropped by an average of five points. Those who were older, or who had high blood pressure, were more likely to see the result.
2. Control Pain
We think of pain as an objective, physical experience. Science has shown that it can be heavily connected with our psychology, known as a psychosomatic experience. Meditators building skill over time can reach a point where meditation helps to lessen their experience of chronic pain.
They might start noticing itches or slight discomfort while meditating and try to scratch the itch with their mind or ‘breathe through’ the discomfort. Like a muscle that grows with resistance training, the brain gets more adept at addressing seemingly physical experiences through focussed thought.
Under MRI, meditating patients had less activity in the areas of the brain that control pain, and less sensitivity to pain overall.
If your interest is meditation is principally to control pain, you might want to also try CBD oil. It can help with everything from stress reduction to skincare – check out these products if you don’t believe us!
3. Improve Sleep
Like exercise and the right diet, meditation can help you sleep better and longer. If you’re an insomniac, try meditating for 15 minutes before bed. Over time, you’ll get better at blocking out the unhelpful anxiety, plans and shopping lists keeping you up at night.
In one piece of research, participants who meditated were able to sleep more quickly and stay that way for longer than those that did not. Beyond the mind, meditation can improve general body relaxation, reducing the tension that can keep you awake in discomfort.
4. Improve Empathy
Guided meditations can help encourage empathy and kindness. Next time you’re feeling frustrated or angry at someone, find a moment to calm yourself with deep breathing. Now, enter the meditative state.
Once you’ve got your meditative focus on, reflect on what happened, trying to see the event or conversation from bird’s eye view, without your own emotions. What might the other person have been getting at? What would that say about their experience of the conflict?
Practicing this act of ‘putting yourself in someone else’s shoes’ can strengthen your ability to empathize. It’s just one of the soft skills that contribute to psychological safety – the key to high-performance today’s working world.
You might be surprised at the insight meditation gives you, by allowing you to analyze these conflict scenarios in a more objective way.
5. Better Attention Span
A regular meditation practice can lengthen your attention span and the depth of your focus. In studies, participants who meditated could focus better, for longer.
They also found that had better recall than their non-meditating peers. If you’re sick of forgetting where you put your keys ore what your boss wanted in the report, it might be time to meditate!
6. Better Self-Awareness
Meditation puts an end to those constant distractions in your mind. It brings your awareness of your environment into sharp focus, which over time can improve self-awareness.
How? Perhaps you’ve been walking around all afternoon feeling grumpy, or anxious, but it’s a vague sensation and you’re trying to ignore rather than address.
But it’s impacting the way you experience work, and it’s making you be a jerk to those around you.
A brief ten-minute meditation in a quiet place can be all you need to stop and work out why you’ve got this feeling and work out when it started. You can breathe slowly and deeply, and make a conscious decision to let the negative feeling go.
The self-awareness you get from meditation might be about noticing physical tension. Like that crick in your neck whenever you deal with an angry customer. You can acknowledge the tension, breathe into it, and work to let it go.
It’s Time to Try Meditation!
While the thought of meditation conjures up men in saffron robes, it’s become an increasingly common practice. You might see it at the end of your local yoga or pilates class, or even have an employer-sponsored program at work. What better way to understand the purpose of meditation than through actually doing it?
If you’re not ready to join a class, you might consider downloading a free meditation app and starting small at home. Start with five minutes each morning, and work to build up to 20 minutes.
To keep a consistent meditation practice, try roping your partner or friends in too. You can keep each other motivated and share notes about what worked for each of you. Now there ‘s nothing stopping you – so go ahead and download a meditation app today!