Meditation is a practice extending back thousands of years. It’s used by many of the world’s religions and by countless health practitioners around the globe. In our modern society, a daily meditation practice is becoming more and more popular as new scientific research is released that shows meditating can not only relieve stress and anxiety but can make us feel more grounded, calm, and centered in our daily lives. With every meditation, we each deepen our relationship with ourselves and develop an understanding of who we are and what we want.  

So why start chanting “Om”? Here are just a few of the health benefits of replacing 15 minutes a day of scrolling through your Facebook feed with a meditation practice: 

 1) Enhances Self-Awareness 

One of the first things we become aware of when meditating is our focus on the breath: deep inhale in through the nose and long exhales out through the mouth. When we start doing this we become hyper-aware of the body. 

 How am I feeling today? What’s that ache in my leg? Why can’t I stop thinking about that song in my head?   

 The mind tends to wander, making us feel like we can’t do this whole meditation thing. But that’s the point of meditation. It helps us develop awareness. We become in tune with what’s going on with us, not just in our bodies but also in our minds. The point isn’t to turn the mind off. It’s to show us what’s there, without any attachment to anything being “right” or “wrong”. 

 

2) Increases Our Tolerance of Pain 

The expression, “breathe through the pain” may sound annoying when we’re hurting, but scientific research shows that controlled breathing, which we do during meditation, increases our pain tolerance. 

 Jon Kabat-Zinn, who heads up the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at University of Massachusetts Medical School, proved back in the ‘80s that meditation and mindfulness could significantly improve pain symptoms and quality of life in chronic pain patients, even up to four years later. His program, called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is practiced widely. According to Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., a health psychologist at Stanford University, the more a meditator’s brain focuses on the pain experience and the less activity in the evaluation system, the higher their pain tolerance. What that means is, when we focus on the actual physical pain itself, it’s typically not as bad as our minds are “making it out” to be. In other words, focus on the sensations of the pain itself and drop the story. According to McGonigal, “It’s the story that turns pain into suffering”. 

 

3) Develops Our Intuition 

The Universe is constantly giving us information and signs, but with all the noise in our heads and constantly being bombarded by our phone, email, and social media, we often aren’t even aware of it. Instead of tapping into our own “inner knowing”, many people have the tendency to ask others what they should do when faced with big decisions, rather than trusting themselves.  

 There’s something deeply profound that happens in a daily meditation practice. When we tune out all the distractions around us and quiet our minds, we can hear answers to our questions. We become more aware of signs pointing us in the direction we’re supposed to go. The mind speaks to us through ongoing thoughts, whereas intuition speaks from a place of silence, which resides within us. Think of intuition as your guide and meditation as the ears that help you hear the directions. 

 The next time you have a big decision you’re trying to make, stop yourself from asking another person what you should do. Instead, sit quietly alone and ask your higher self the question. There will almost always be a clear answer that comes through.  

 

4) Lessens Anxiety and Stress 

Another benefit of meditation is its ability to teach us how to build up a tolerance to stress and other things that bother us. When we’re forced to sit quietly, we become hyper-aware of the things around us…the ticking of the clock, the subtle smells around us, the noises coming in from the outside. Meditation teaches us is how to tune the small things out and stay centered and focused on our breath. Think of it as strengthening your resilience to the daily pressures of everyday life. The more you meditate, the more your strength builds up to shield you against stress and anxiety. 

“It did to my mind what going to the gym did to my body — it made it both stronger and more flexible,” said Dr. Hedy Kober, a neuroscientist who studies the effects of mindfulness meditation at her lab at Yale University. She admitted during a TED Talk that she started meditating to deal with a break-up, but found that it helped her handle stress and unpleasant feelings in all areas of her life. 

 

5) Improves Sleep 

Roughly 60 million Americans are affected by insomnia and many turn to medication to help them fall asleep at night. Meditation is a drug-free way to help the body relax, a benefit that continues when it’s time for us to hit the hay. By training the mind to focus all of its attention on the gentle “in and out” of the breath, thoughts that keep us lying awake for hours can be calmed. There are plenty of guided meditations designed to help people fall asleep. Insight Timer which is a popular app that can be downloaded right onto your phone has over 12,000 guided meditations, many of them specifically for sleep. 

Remember, meditation is a practice. It’s not about achieving a perfect state of mind every time. Start slow. Do it your own way. And trust that a consistent and daily practice will change your life in ways you can’t begin to imagine.