The powerful advantages of meditation

Meditation or mindfulness training has become a widespread topic in today's world of fast pace. But what exactly is meditation and why are so many people obsessed with it and claim the benefits for our mind and body to be amazing? In our busy lives, does meditation really help us take a breather?

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Many people think of a buddhist monk sitting in peaceful relaxation when they think of meditation. But meditation is something we all can integrate in our life. It's not just for Buddhist monks who have mastered the challenge of unplugging themselves from the outside world. Even someone with a hectic lifestyle, and a busy job can learn to use meditation as a way to calm down and take a break from the outside world. 

What is meditation?

Live in the momentMeditation or mindfulness training is a way to train the awareness of our own body. Many of us find it difficult to live in the present moment and be present in the now as we often feel we have so many other things to worry about, so many past events we still dwell on, and so many plans to make for the future. When was the last time you were fully present in the moment? Many of us would answer this question with: "quite some time ago". For this reason, it might be worthwhile to see if meditation works for you.
Specifically, we are supposed to direct all our attention toward our body, our breathing, and our thoughts during meditation. By focusing on nothing but ourselves, we learn to live in the present moment and tune out all other distractions that usually affect us. It is important that while noticing all our feelings and thoughts, we should not evaluate or judge them but rather consciously observe them. We often try to suppress our negative feelings and thoughts, thinking they won't affect us that way. Meditation teaches us to notice and observe each of our thoughts - even the negative ones - without evaluating or judging them. In the following, we look at the advantages meditation can bring to you. 

1. A better mood

Improved mood through meditationA study published in 2010 analysed how meditation affects our mood. A research team at the University of Pennsylvania examined soldiers who were about to be send abroad and were receiving an intense military training for this reason. This was a time in which the soldiers were under enormous psychological and physical pressure. The researchers split them into two groups, with one group receiving mindfulness training for 8 weeks. The results showed that the group who had meditated during this period stated that their mood had improved significantly compared to before and they were happy more often. The reason for meditation bettering our mood is that it prevents us from constantly worrying about negative things, things we fear, things that burden and stress us. An uncertain, anxious future, a hurtful situation from the past - more often than not, we waste our energy on things that create negativity inside of us. Whereas if we fully live in the present moment, there are far less things we have to worry about [1]. 

2. Negative emotions don't trigger depression 

People who practice meditation become aware of their emotions and consequently also experience their negative emotions more consciously. This makes them realize that negative emotions are an integral part of their emotional spectrum and are not something to surpress, push aside or be scared of. They are part of our emotions and have just as much a right to exist as our positive feelings. During meditation, we understand that negative feelings are no threat or danger to our well-being, quite the opposite: they are part of our experience as human beings. Therefore, people who practice meditation don't experience negative emotions as a trigger for depression, as was shown by a study published in 2010 [2]. 

3. Pain can be dealt with better

Meditation strengthens our so-called alpha waves, which are responsible for our will power. A study at Brown University demonstrated that people who meditated on a regular basis were more able to use their willpower and strength of will to ignore any kind of pain [3]. 

4. An increased concentration

Strengthen your concentrationIn our daily lives, there are many things surrounding us, demanding our attention. This makes it difficult sometimes to fully concentrate on one thing only. A study at the University of Santa Barbara examined the effect mindfulness training has on our ability to concentrate. Participants of the study found it easier to concentrate on one task and felt less affected by other distractions they were being exposed to after having tried meditation for two weeks. [4]. 

Become a master of your mind

It can be said that the benefits of meditation are indeed quite abundant. Why don't you try it out yourself and see what you think of it? After all, we have seen that not only does it enhance our mood, it also strengthens our concentration and makes us feel more in control of our thoughts and our mind. Wouldn't it be wonderful to tune out all those noisy modern-day distractions and take a few minutes to only focus on the essential - your feelings, your thoughts, your entire being. In a world where we have forgotten the true value of the present moment and what power it holds to make us happy if truly experienced, meditation might just be what brings us back to ourselves. 

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Sources:

1: Jha, A. P., Stanley, E. A., Kiyonaga, A., Wong, L., & Gelfand, L. (2010). Examining the Protective Effects of Mindfulness Training on Working Memory Capacity and Affective Experience. Emotion, 10(1), 54-64.
2: Farb, N. A. S., Anderson, A. K., Mayberg, H., Bean, J., McKeon, D., & Segal, Z. V. (2010). Minding One’s Emotions: Mindfulness Training Alter the Neural Expression of Sadness. Emotion, 10(1), 25-33.
3: Kerr, C. E., Sacchet, M. D., Lazar, S. W., Moore, C. I., & Jones, S. R. (2013). Mindfulness starts with the body: somatosensory attention and top-down modulation of cortical alpha rhythms in mindfulness meditation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7(12), 1-15.
4: Mrazek, M. D., Franklin, M. S., Phillips, D. W., Baird, B., & Schooler, J. W. (2012). Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering. Psychological Science, 24(5), 776-781.

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