Good health is a high priority for many people, but what you may not realize is that a large portion of your health is directly tied to your stress level. Stress can make us eat more or less than a healthy amount, sleep much less, or maybe even cause physical pain and hurt to parts of our body while leaving us completely oblivious to the process. On the other side of the coin, there is positive stress which keeps us alert and aware of the things that are happening around us, and helps us to think straight and to the best of our ability. Although there are both these positive and negative stressors, the majority of stress that causes harm to the body is negative stress.
Luckily, there is a natural combatant for this negative stress—meditation. Meditation is a process that puts your body in a state of calm and relaxation to relieve the physical and mental ailments caused by stress and other things. Mediation has plenty of benefits outside of stress relief, though. Some major benefits to continual meditation is conscious eating habits and a deeper state of relaxation on a daily basis. By helping you to put a more positive spin on things in life, you will find that meditation is a rather large aid in helping to achieve a healthier standard of living in several areas of the health spectrum.
What Is Meditation?
“To spend time in quiet thought for religious purposes or relaxation” is how the term ‘meditate’ is defined by the Webster dictionary. Webster continues to say that the process of meditation consists of a series of mental exercise where the person concentrates on their breathing or a repetition of a mantra, and in doing so, reaches a heightened level of awareness. This heightened state of brain activity is where many find peace with memories, or with the stressors that are around them. Meditation is typically achieved when a person can be alone in a quiet location to focus on themselves and not be distracted by outside influences. These influences can interrupt the relaxation process, rendering it almost impossible to successfully reach the deepest state of relaxation. Although it takes lots of practice to master, many have found that the dedication necessary to achieve this level of mastery is worth the effort because of the health benefits that stem off from the continual act of meditation.
How to Achieve Proper Meditation
Let’s start out by saying that everyone is different, and the process required to achieve meditation may not be the same for you as it is for your friends and family, but the method that does work will most likely follow a distinct outline of actions leading up to the relaxation.
- Find a Quiet Place to Be Alone
A quiet place is necessary to achieve meditation the first few times until you become proficient in achieving the state of meditation quickly. You have to be able to focus on a very specific thing when meditating, so having other distractions around you will deter from the process that you are trying to achieve. Places that you might find quiet include your bedroom with a dim light on and the door shut, or maybe even out in the woods, in nature, secluded from the hustle and bustle of the busy city life. Whatever place you find works for you, make a note of it and continue to go back there.
- Be Comfortable
Relaxation is important, so make sure wherever you are, you are comfortable. It doesn’t matter if you decide to sit, or lay down, or a combination of the two, as long as you are comfortable during the process. You might even find that you prefer to walk during your meditation process. Nature walks often make the perfect places for meditation because they are quite and secluded, but still close enough that it’s not a major inconvenience to the routine of your day. Wherever you end up, put on comfortable clothes if possible, and enjoy the time you have to yourself.
- Focus Your Energy on an Action or Phrase
The most vital part of meditation is the process of relaxation that focuses on a particular action or thought. It is through this continual focus that other distractions and stressors disappear and you find yourself more relaxed than before. Meditation is sometimes timed, so in that case, the process involves setting a timer, then focusing on your specific item for the duration of the time until the buzzer goes off. You may find the timer distracting at first, but by consciously ignoring it, you put yourself in a higher state of self-control, which yields a better result in the end.
- A Focused but Open Mind
While meditating, you will have other thoughts. This does not mean you are bad at meditating, it means that you are human, and it is normal. When you hear something or your mind starts to wander, state to yourself that you are getting off track, and get back to your breathing. For example, if you are trying to count breaths and you have to scratch your leg, say to yourself “I have to scratch my leg,” then scratch it and go back to counting breaths. The same goes for noises or other thoughts you have during the process.
Meditation Improves Your Eating Habits
Meditation has been proven to improve your eating habits. It accomplishes this in two ways:
- It Helps You Pay Closer Attention to the Foods You Eat
When you achieve a consistent and stable schedule of meditation and you focus on being in tune with your bodies senses, you may see an improvement in your eating habits and your health due to it. This arises from the phenomena known as mindful eating. Through mindful eating programs, you train your mind to pay better attention to what your body is telling you when eating. The thought is to notify your brain sooner when you are full and to try to prevent the stress binge eating that happens all too often when we don’t want it to. By eating in a state of meditation, you will find that you pay better attention to the texture and taste of the food, instead of consuming everything put in front of you because you feel hungry at a foundational level. Food is designed to have a specific taste and texture, and often we ignore this and just consume it as a substance that may or may not provide the nutrients we desire and demand for a healthy lifestyle.
- It Reduces Cravings and Binge Eating Situations
Stress plays a large number on our eating habits because we have specific foods that we automatically navigate to when we desire to withdraw from the situations which are making us stress out. These foods include popular fast food chains, ice cream, or the dreaded bag of potato chips. These foods are great in moderation, when we desire them as comfort foods, we typically do not listen to our inner self and over consume these items. We choose these foods for many different reasons, but the main reason is their association with comfort. If you find that your comfort food is something high in sugar or chocolate, this may be due to childhood memories of feeling comfortable and relaxed at home surrounded by the smell of fresh baked cookies or sweets. If fast food chains are your food, this may be due to the simple nature of the ease that these places offer. The last thing you want to do when you are stressed is to take the time and exert the energy to make a healthy and nutritious meal. This creates the association in your brain with that restaurant and the stressful mindset. Thus, the habit is born.
Meditation is the perfect combatant for this because it can be used to retrain your mind to completely erase this correlation to the comfort foods that your mind goes to. The ultimate goal is to use meditation to get rid of the stressful situations entirely by dipping into a meditative state when you feel stressed, however this will not happen right away and by retraining your mind to avoid binge eating, you are essentially buying yourself insurance to cover when you aren’t able to relieve the stress right away.
The Many Health Benefits of Meditation
Aside from improving your sleep habits, meditation has been shown to have a number of health benefits. Here are a few:
- More Reliable Sleep Schedule
If you ever find yourself having trouble sleeping, this could be a result of the neurons in your brain firing and sending thoughts racing across your mind, making your mind wander, keeping you awake. By using meditation as a sleep aid, you can tame these thoughts and make them less important, which allows you to sleep. The progressive relaxation of meditation allows you to relax your muscles and mind to the point of falling asleep on your own. Meditation is a good alternative to using sleep aids or prescription alternatives when sleep does not come easily.
- Improved Focus and Mental Clarity
Meditation is proven to increase the number of connections between the cells in your mind, which allows you to achieve mental clarity very easily and continue on a train of thought without much ease. This improved mental state also improves focus. When something is difficult to understand, or uninteresting, your mind tends to wander, which causes an issue of lack of focus to arise. With the increased neural activity, focus issues dissolve away.
- Better Daily Mood
With your increased mental capacity and better sleep schedule, it’s no wonder that your daily mood will also increase to a better level than before. This increased happiness and mood are attributed to the combination of all the previous improvements, plus more. With frequent meditation, you will find that you have better overall health because of the lack of stress, the higher immune system, and many other health benefits. Low self-worth can both be a cause and effect of being in a bad mood, but with the overall increase of your health, this becomes much less of a factor.
- Boosted Immune System
For some reason that takes far too long to explain, it is known that the immune system is controlled by the same part of the brain which controls emotion, awareness, and anxiety. You might begin to see the correlation between the benefits of meditation and the immune system. Meditation has a way of improving this way of the brain, so it is reasonable to expect that your immune system to improve as well. Healthy and positive thoughts, as a result, have been proven to improve your immune system, which keeps the rest of you healthy in the trials of life.
- Lower Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is another thing largely affected by stress levels. Excess stress can cause chronic high blood pressure, which puts you at an increased risk for many different fatal ailments. These ailments include heart attacks and failure, strokes, and even kidney damage. By using meditation to reduce stress, you reduce the triggers for high blood pressure, which highly reduce the chances of these conditions developing. This is also better regulated with the improved state of the immune system, which benefits from meditation.
- Decreased Inflammation
Chronic inflammation is a perpetual activation of defense mechanisms inside the immune system in the absence of a real threat, infection, or injury. This trigger is initially caused by different things, but one thing is for certain, meditation can help to alleviate it. This chronic inflammation is another ailment potentially caused by a high level of stress, and as already stated, meditation and relaxation is one key way to help to resolve the stressful situations.
This is all done through a process referred to as mindfulness meditation. During this process, you are trained to be more aware and attentive to your bodies response in different situations and to deal with them in a productive and resourceful way. This is different than relaxation meditation because relaxation meditation doesn’t actually deal with the stressors. However, when used in tandem, the results can be very helpful and even life-saving in certain situations.
The Power of Mediation
Whatever your reasons for taking up meditation, the benefits are astounding. If you are looking for a peaceful and enjoyable way to improve both your physical and mental health, meditation is an excellent option to consider.
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