Practicing mindfulness and meditation may help you manage stress and high blood pressure, sleep better, feel more balanced and connected, and even lower your risk of heart disease.
Meditation and mindfulness are practices — often using breathing, quiet contemplation or sustained focus on something, such as an image, phrase or sound — that help you let go of stress and feel more calm and peaceful. Think of it as a mini-vacation from the stress in your life! Stress is your body’s natural alarm system. It releases a hormone called adrenaline that makes your breathing speed up and your heart rate and blood pressure rise. It kicks us into action, which can be a good thing when we’re faced with a real danger or need to perform.
But that “fight or flight” response can take a toll on your body when it goes on too long or is a regular occurrence. Mindfulness meditation provides a method for handling stress in a healthier way.
Meditation can improve wellbeing and quality of life.
Recent studies have offered promising results about the impact of meditation in reducing blood pressure. There is also evidence that it can help people manage insomnia, depression and anxiety.
Some research suggests that meditation physically changes the brain and could help:
- increase ability to process information
- slow the cognitive effects of aging
- reduce inflammation
- support the immune system
- reduce symptoms of menopause
- control the brain’s response to pain
- improve sleep
More research is needed, but it’s clear that meditation’s effects on the body and brain are a no-brainer!
Find the method that works for you.
There are many different types of meditation, including:
- compassion (metta or loving-kindness),
- insight (Vipassana),
- mantra, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR),
- Zen, and others.
It could be as simple as sitting quietly and focusing on your breath. When your mind wanders (and it will!), gently bring it back to the breath again. Gradually increase the amount of time you’re able to stay focused. If you’re not sure how to get started, look for local classes on meditation, get recommendations from friends, or research different types that interest you.
Transcendental meditation is a technique that allows your mind to focus inward, staying alert to other thoughts or sensations without allowing them to interfere. It’s typically done seated with your eyes closed for 20 minutes, twice a day. Mindfulness meditation may use an object of focus, such as the ringing of a bell, chanting, touching beads or gazing at an image. Prayer can also be a form of mediation.
Not all meditation is done sitting down with your legs crossed and eyes closed. Moving meditation forms include qi gong, Tai Chi and yoga.
The bottom line.
- While meditation can help you manage stress, sleep well and feel better, it shouldn’t replace lifestyle changes like eating healthier, managing your weight, and getting regular physical activity. It’s also not a substitute for medication or medical treatment your doctor may have prescribed.
- Try different types of meditation to find what works for you, and make it a regular part of your healthy lifestyle.
Last reviewed: 2014