Last time I had a solo podcast I spoke about some ways to manage stress and one of the methods I listed was meditation. Meditation is becoming very popular. Over 14% of US adults have tried meditation, and since 2012 the number of people using meditation has tripled. But there’s a lot more to meditation than just stress management so I wanted to dedicate a whole podcast to it. So today I will be breaking down some of the best scientifically backed benefits of incorporating meditation into your daily lives.
But before we get into the benefits let’s first talk about what it means to meditate. Now, these are my thoughts as far as I’ve interpreted meditation throughout my years of practice. I’ve been doing it for about 7 years now so by no means am I an expert but I’m also not a novice either.
So, meditation usually begins by sitting still in a quiet place with your eyes closed, focusing on the breath and calming the mind. A typical meditation session is around ten minutes, but it can be longer, half an hour, an hour, even longer. Many people think the point of meditation is to just think of nothing, but that’s actually not the point. The point is to become aware of our thoughts and try to remove ourselves and distance ourselves from our thoughts. Meaning, our thoughts are things and they do not necessarily define us. Think of yourself as sitting on the side of the road on a bench and your thoughts are the cars driving by. There are two separate and distinct entities there: You, sitting on the bench, and your thoughts, driving by. Now, the difficult part throughout the practice is to refrain from getting off of the bench and chasing your thoughts like a dog chasing a car. You must remain on the bench. And by doing this over and over again, we can learn to disassociate ourselves from our thoughts.
Why do we want to disassociate ourselves from our thoughts? Well, let me provide a real-world example. Let’s say something happens at work that pisses you off. A co-worker throws you under the bus, your boss puts too much on your plate at once, a deal goes wrong, whatever the case may be. Let’s say it makes you angry. You think to yourself “This made me angry, I am now angry.” Normally, you’d be angry for the foreseeable future. However, when we’re able to disassociate ourselves from our thoughts, we can recognize that yes, this event made me angry, but just because I thought “anger” doesn’t mean I have to become “anger.” Your thoughts do not have to define you, you do not have to succumb to your thoughts. You can disassociate and watch the thought drive by like you’re sitting on the bench.
Once we gain this skill, through much practice, it becomes a bit of a superpower. We become no longer derailed by outside events. Meditation helps us practice this skill of dissociation and helps us cultivate it into our daily lives.
So, think about that, imagine going through your day with the ability to not react negatively to any event that transpires. Think about what you’d be able to accomplish with that skill. This is what meditation can offer. One of the biggest things I first started noticing when I began meditating is that when something happened that would get everyone around me all riled up and emotional, I had the power to not let it affect me. I would look around at everyone else freaking out and being all reactionary, and I would remain calm and level.
So that details my personal interpretation and experience with meditation, now let's talk about the science-based facts behind it. Last week we mentioned how meditation can help alleviate stress and symptoms of stress, here are 5 other scientifically backed benefits of mediation.
So, in addition to reducing stress, meditation has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression. A 2019 study from the American Psychological Association found that just spending 10-20 minutes a day for 8 weeks using the headspace app on a smartphone reduced anxiety by 31% and reduced depression by 46%. Considering nearly a quarter of the U.S. population suffers with some kind of mental health disorder, I believe we need to normalize meditation as a way to prevent our mental health epidemic from getting worse.
One review of 38 studies concluded that mindfulness meditation could reduce pain, improve quality of life, and decrease symptoms of depression in people with chronic pain. Another large meta-analysis of studies enrolling nearly 3,500 participants concluded that meditation was associated with decreased pain. Meditators and non-meditators experienced the same causes of pain, but meditators showed a greater ability to cope with pain and even experienced a reduced sensation of pain.
See, the reason for this is that pain is the brain’s interpretation of a signal from the body. When you hear someone say, “ah, it’s not real! It’s all in your head!” Well, technically speaking, all pain is in your head. The power that mediation provides is the ability to not become stressed out by these pain signals and therefore cope with them better which leads to a reduced experienced sensation of pain.
Improve Sleep - By practicing meditation and becoming adept, as I mentioned earlier, we can allow our thoughts to pass us by like we’re sitting on the side of the road. You can see how that ability would allow us to not let our thoughts distract us when we’re trying to lay down to go to bed at night.
In addition to letting our thoughts pass us by, meditation also lowers the heart rate which will put us into rest and digest as opposed to being in fight or flight. This will lower breathing and increase the prospect of a good night of quality sleep.
Make you a calmer, more balanced human being - A 2017 study demonstrated that just 3 weeks of using the headspace app resulted in 57% reduction in aggression, and reduced participants’ irritability by 27%! In addition to that, meditation has been shown to increase positive emotions by 16% and compassion by 21%.
When we’re able to place ourselves more in the present moment and distance ourselves our thoughts and our emotions, we can become less reactive and therefore less irritable
and more compassionate.
Increase productivity - Multiple studies published in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement showed meditation can improve focus by 14% and can reduce mind wandering by 22%. Obviously, this can lead to just getting more shit done, and that’s ALWAYS a good thing! There’s a reason so many top-level CEO’s and athletes have begun to integrate meditation into their daily lives. These people are obviously after top performance and meditating is like taking a performance enhancing drug without any side effects!