Does meditation really work?
Funny you ask. For the past couple months, we at Well+Kind have been coming together, virtually, every week and meditating. Through car alarms, busy schedules, and the days where we “just don’t want to” – we have taken a deep breath, silenced our phones, and tried to meditate. We say, try, because it is now – and will always be – a work in progress.
While we all have our own experiences of this journey – from what works, what doesn’t, and all the in-between – today, we turn towards science.
Studies have shown that meditation:
- Reduces stress
- Promotes emotional health
- Increases attention span
- Controls anxiety
- Enhances self-awareness
- Reduces age-related memory loss
- Helps combat addiction
- Improves sleep
- Decreases blood pressure
- Helps control pain
- Promotes kindness and compassion towards others!
As mental wellness lovers and ladies who love to self-improve, this list was promising enough to at least give it a go. Anything to decompress after a long day and get into a better headspace to attend to yourself, and anyone else who expects your attention.
As Covid has taught us, when we are busy – life is hard. And when we are not busy – it isn’t much easier. Did you know that neuroscientists estimate we generate around 80,000 thoughts a day? Being a human sounds exhausting! When busy, our minds are flooded with thoughts about the tasks at hand. When we’re surrounded by the same four walls, day in and day out, it feels, at times, like we must surrender to the racing thoughts – thoughts that at best, are distracting, and at worst, are harmful to ourselves.
So how does meditation come in? Meditation is said to settle the mind. It’s the act of pausing your day and quieting the ceaseless thoughts that stampede through our brain like wild horses.
Thích Nhất Hạnh, Buddhist monk, says “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
Originating in India, and practiced by many Eastern cultures for thousands of years, meditation has recently entered into popular culture in Western society. And that means the scientists weren’t too far behind. As a culture rooted in empiricism – the rational philosophy favoring experiential evidence over innate traditions – our gut tells us to rush to the internet, to scientists, and to academic studies to tell us what meditation is proven to do.
So that’s what we did. What we learned is, that when the body and the mind are relaxed – whether through meditation or other calming techniques – the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated and the body stops releasing stress hormones. This helps us regulate anxiety, curb depression and addiction, decrease your blood pressure, control bodily pain, and the list goes on.
What we find, over and over again, is that the underlying messages of these science-based studies – the cliff notes, if you will – is that meditation helps people be more in-tune with their bodies and minds. We could continue to discuss scientific words none of us are familiar with and, trust me, we’ve tried – or we could read between the lines.
As humans, we’re constantly trying to understand ourselves in order to make the most out of life and reach our full potential. Meditation and mindful practices offer a unique insight into the relationship between our mind and body.
“Your goal is not to battle with the mind, but to witness the mind.”– Swami Muktananda
For the same reasons that drawing a bath and taking your dog for a walk are calming, moments where we slow our day and practice mindfulness (whether that’s focusing on your breath, feeling the ground under you as you walk, think about your gratitude list) we knowingly or unknowingly are shifting our mindset. And while there’s still much we don’t know about meditation, what we do know is that we feel better when we do it. Simple as that.
There are many styles of meditation. We’ve tried a bunch – and are still learning what works best for us individually. We feel like meditation isn’t about the outcome, but about the way we interact with it. Talking about what surfaces for us in classes, how our moods change and fluctuate, and how we feel after a session – helps us use self-awareness and mindfulness as tools to better understand ourselves. Accepting where we are at all times, and how we can support our friends and family, is showing kindness both to ourselves and to others.
So to our original question – does meditation really work? The answer that feels most truthful to us, is that while we still don’t entirely know from a scientific standpoint, we do know that we benefit from the process greatly and it works for us!