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The Many Benefits of Meditation for Stress, Anxiety & Insomnia

January 04, 2018

When you hear the word “meditation,” you probably imagine sitting cross-legged on the floor, possibly chanting “Om.” You may think it’s just for flakes or new-age hippies. You may think you don’t have time for it, or that it’s difficult, or that it’s simply a waste of time.
Newsflash: none of these things is true.

Meditation doesn’t have to include sitting still, and it doesn’t need to take a lot of your precious time. It’s not “weird,” it does have a huge positive impact on your health and wellbeing, and best of all, you may already have the basics of a meditation practice down without even realizing it.
That’s right. You could be an accidental meditator.

Meditation doesn’t mean you have to sit still
While the classic image of meditation is of sitting still in one place and clearing your mind of everything, there are many different styles of meditation and that is only one of them. The word “meditate” comes from the Latin word “meditari,” which simply means “to concentrate,” and at its core meditation is just that: focused concentration. And while sitting still may make concentration easier for some of us, for many the effect is just the opposite.

Our noses itch. Our feet go to sleep. The floor is too hard and makes our backs ache. Our bodies weren’t designed to stay in the same position for long periods of time, and for us, our brains will do nearly anything to get our bodies in motion again. And that’s ok. The key ingredient to effective meditation is mindfulness, which you can practice in nearly any situation.

What is mindfulness?
We see the term everywhere. Mindful eating. Mindful parenting. Mindful this and mindful that. But what is mindfulness, really? It’s the act of being really present in the current moment, of being truly aware of what is going on both around you and inside of you.

We tend to walk through the world only half-aware. We’re thinking about a billion things—what to have for dinner, whether we’ll get the promotion we put in for, how our children are doing in school. The list is infinite, and thoughts like this occupy the greatest part of our minds more often than not. We’re busy living in the future and the past, or in locations other than where we actually are in the moment.

IMG_00000061If you’re thinking about what you’re going to make for dinner as you drive to work, your body may be driving your car and keeping an eye on traffic but your mind is in your kitchen checking your fridge and making a list of possible ingredients. You’re not really present in the current moment. If you’re eating dinner in front of the television, you’re only half aware of what you’re eating, because the bulk of your mind is living within the story on the screen in front of you.

Being mindful means really paying attention to what’s going on. If you’re driving to work, really feel the steering wheel in your hands, the resistance of the pedals under your foot. Smell the air. Hear the engine, the rustle of your clothes as you move. Be present. If you’re eating, don’t just mindlessly consume, but really feel the texture of the food, the touch of the fork on your tongue, the crunch or crumble or creaminess. Savor each subtle flavor. Be aware of the spoon between your fingers, the tink of its metal against your bowl. Be aware. This is mindfulness.

When you practice mindfulness, everyday things can become a form of moving meditation. If you’re truly mindful, something as simple as vacuuming the carpet can be a mini-meditation. Simply put aside all thoughts of the future and the past, of what’s going on some other place, and be present in the moment: hear the roar of the motor, feel the handle within your grip, the slight resistance of the cord as it trails along the floor. Smell the faint dusty odor of the exhaust. When you practice mindfulness in everyday situations, you may find you come away more calm, less stressed, and more centered. And that’s not all.

Meditation has real health benefits
Not only is it calming to your mind, meditation has concrete benefits for your health. Studies routinely find that meditation reduces stress, anxiety, and insomnia. A 2014 study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine Review found that meditation relieves anxiety symptoms better than conventional stress-management techniques. Other studies have found that meditation can improve the symptoms of depression, reduce the incidence of panic attacks in those with anxiety disorders, help smokers cut down, lower blood pressure, and even reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Best of all? A study from from last year by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that as little as six minutes of mindfulness practice per day reduced stress and anxiety when participants were given stressful tasks. So what are you waiting for? Take a deep breath, and start living in the moment.