When it was first suggested to me that I create a meditation practice, an image of a plump, smiling Buddha under a tree crossed my mind.
I admit I was quite skeptical at first. How was sitting still watching my breath going to help me with my current struggles? I also knew that sometimes we just need to explore new things to create new outcomes. Fast forward to many years later I can share how life-changing this ancient practice can be as it is now a part of my daily routine.
Meditation is an umbrella term for many mindful and contemplative practices.
It includes breath awareness, walking, eating, and loving-kindness. Each meditative practice elicits different responses and together creates powerful, long-term benefits. The overall intention is to become more aware; to learn about ourselves so we can make choices moving forward as the person we wish to be.
Here are 10 Long-Term Benefits of Meditation:
A mindful meditation practice helps to regulate the body’s stress response while activating the peripheral nervous system. This leads to slower heart rate, lower breathing rate, drop in blood pressure, and a sense of calm and peace.
Improved Focus and Memory:
Meditation allows us to practice focusing and concentrating on one thing. This is necessary to consolidate long-term memories. Research demonstrates that as we learn to focus more, the brain region critical to learning and memory, called the hippocampus increases in volume.
Drop in Systemic Inflammation:
The more stressful our life, the more inflammation is coursing through our body. This is because the body’s stress and inflammatory pathways are connected. As we meditate, the stress response down-regulates and shifts the expression of pro-inflammatory genes. This results in a drop in cortisol release and suppression of inflammatory cytokines.
Improved Coping Skills:
A consistent meditation practice has been shown to quiet and even shrink the amygdala, the fear center in our brain. This releases fear, worry, and even anger. We get out of our reactive and impulsive way of being and become more adaptable to life’s inevitable changes.
Living in the Present:
Meditation teaches us to be right where we are. It takes us out of yesterday’s story or the worry of tomorrow. It allows us to have a full life. In the present is where life’s magic happens.
Practicing a loving-kindness meditation impacts the compassion area of the brain called the anterior insular cortex, helping to create empathy and compassion for our self and others. This elevated level of understanding impacts how we connect with others and has been shown to lead to more altruistic acts.
Meditation releases feel-good happiness molecules! This includes serotonin, dopamine, GABA, endorphins, DHEA, and oxytocin which all contribute to improved mood, a sense of motivation, and a more relaxed state.
Upgrades in Neurocircuitry:
Meditation helps us rewire our brain circuitry. Through neuroplasticity, we can create new synaptic connections and prune out old habitual thought patterns that no longer serve us. There is no such thing as you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!
Meditation allows us to relax, focus, and flow with what is before us. Through consistent practice, we will become more open to insight and intuition which leads to a boost in self-confidence and willingness to take artistic risks.
The ultimate reward of a meditation practice is to evolve who we are. It is about becoming more comfortable in our own skin. Through meditation, we build self-confidence, create a loving nature, and connect with our most authentic self.
Keep in mind that creating these changes requires consistent practice.
You can certainly sit down and quiet your mind for five minutes and get back to your day feeling calmer and alert. However, it is likely you’ll find yourself overreacting to an event ten minutes later. Reaping the benefits of meditation will require constant practice.
That means every single day. After all, it is called a practice.