The Benefits of Regular Meditation

Meditation is a practice that involves training your mind to focus, and it’s becoming quite popular these days. You’ve probably read articles about it, heard about celebrities who swear by it or even know people in your everyday circles who sing its praises. It’s used for a variety of reasons. Some feel it helps them to feel calmer when life is particularly hectic. Others just want to reduce their overall stress or to improve their sleep and feel meditation could help. You may have heard that meditating can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. All of these things are true. Let’s examine them, along with other benefits of regular meditation, to see just what all the fuss is about and to help you determine whether meditation seems like a practice you may wish to incorporate into your life.

Stress Reduction

Reducing stress is one of the most sought-after benefits of meditation. In today’s world, there’s a lot to worry about. Sitting quietly to relax your mind and focus your thoughts seems like a worthwhile method for finding a calm moment, but science actually shows this practice works to lower stress levels. A hormone called cortisol is released into our bodies when we’re physically and emotionally stressed, and it can wreak all kinds of havoc on us. The release of cortisol stimulates the production of chemicals known as cytokines that promote inflammation. They also contribute to higher blood pressure, increased fatigue and brain fog, along with added symptoms of depression and anxiety. Studies have demonstrated that mindfulness meditation leads to a reduction of these chemicals, in turn lessening overall feelings of stress in participants.

Better Emotional Well-Being

If you deal with anxiety or depression, meditation could be a tool to improve your overall sense of emotional health. One scientific study looked at the electrical activity in the brains of participants who practiced meditation and those who didn’t.  The researchers discovered that there was a significant change in the areas of the brain responsible for optimism and positive thinking in those who meditated. In another study involving individuals suffering from depression, 18 people were asked to practice meditation for a three-year period. This work determined that the participants actually experienced decreases in their depression that proved to be long-lasting and significant.

Improved Sleep

Many of us struggle with restless sleep or insomnia. It’s a chronic issue that affects you in so many ways. Lack of sleep makes us less alert, clouds our thinking and is detrimental to our physical health. In one research study, participants were placed in two groups. The first group was instructed to meditate, while the other was not. I bet you can guess which group ended up sleeping better and for longer periods. Yep, it was the one that practiced meditation. One of the reasons meditating helps you sleep better is because you learn to control those racing thoughts that keep so many of us awake for hours after our heads hit the pillow. It also aids in overall relaxation.

Decreased Blood Pressure

Meditation has been shown to reduce strain on the heart. Studies have shown that meditating can help to reduce tension in the blood vessels and relax the nerve signals that control heart function, leading to lowering of blood pressure. It also lessens the flight or fight response that is known to contribute to high stress levels and to have an effect on blood pressure.

These are just some of the many health and emotional benefits of meditation. There are numerous others. Engaging in a regular practice of meditating can help you to find specific advantages it can provide for you.

Let’s Talk About Religion and Faith

In our last post, we touched a little bit on how the concept of spirituality differs from organized religion. Neither is necessarily better than the other, and they can be related. However, they’re not the same, as had commonly been accepted in the past. You don’t have to embrace a religion in order to be a spiritual person. Spirituality encompasses a wider set of circumstances and evolves over time. It’s something that an individual determines and shapes, rather than a doctrine or structure to be followed. That’s not to say you can’t be a deeply religious person who is strong in your particular faith and still pursue other spiritual endeavors. The two can exist simultaneously. To make things a bit clearer, let’s take a look at some of the more specific ways in which spirituality differs from religion and faith.

Individual Focus

Religions are comprised of congregations or followers. In many cases, their focus is on sharing their teachings with a group of people within their ranks. Spirituality, on the other hand, is a very uniquely personal endeavor in which the individual creates her or his own meaning. You decide as an individual which direction to take with your spiritual studies. You may choose to pull certain guiding principles from a particular religion or philosophy and combine them with tenets unrelated to any organized group whatsoever. When it comes to following a spiritual path, what matters is that the practices resonate with you.

Less Structure

Most formal, organized religions are quite structured. Followers are often expected to attend worship in a specific meeting space on a designated day. Rituals are frequently part of that worship service, and as a rule, the entire congregation must follow along. You can practice your spirituality in a much more fluid way that best fits your lifestyle. What matters most on a spiritual journey is the way in which you personally decide to format your practice and how you choose to prioritize your beliefs.

Solitary

Your spiritual path is usually one that’s walked alone. While you have the benefit of choosing your own guideposts as you go, doing so can be a bit of a lonely process. When it comes to religion, most folks can depend on their congregation members for support, guidance, socialization and fellowship. Each has its own merits.

Definition of Truth

When it comes to spirituality, what you consider to be truth is predetermined only by you. Most organized religions have a holy book or document that spells out universal truths for followers. There can be a great deal of comfort in following the gospel truth as you see and believe it. However, some people prefer the ability to look for their own version of truth in the world through their lived experiences and through research.

These are merely a few of the differences between spirituality and religion. I simply wish to point out that this 30-day challenge is one that doesn’t require you to hold a particular religious belief, as spirituality can exist separate from religion. I look forward to moving ahead to explore the ways in which a spiritual pursuit, combined with meditation, can help you to live each day more fully and in alignment with your own personal truths.

What is Spirituality?

Spirituality is a concept we hear a lot about these days, but you may not really be sure what the term means. That’s because it’s evolved quite a bit over the years. Once, the word referred to being religious. Whenever someone spoke of being spiritual, you could almost guarantee they meant they were speaking about their formal religion. These days, the term is more fluid. It extends to refer to any form of growth process aimed at reaching a higher consciousness. Spiritual activities of all types allow people to move toward becoming their best selves and to focus their intent on living a purpose-driven life. These activities can include meditation, yoga, research, fellowship, communing with nature and more.

The Importance of Spirituality

Spirituality brings a connectedness to the world around them that many people feel they are lacking. Engaging in these types of activities can help you center on your purpose, pushing you to move toward what is important to you in life. Spirituality can also help us to appreciate the here and now, as well as to notice the beauty in the world around us. Spiritual moments abound and are found nearly everywhere. Something as simple as appreciating the laughter of a child can be considered spiritual because taking note of it has led you to experience feelings, such as joy, that go beyond the mundane or the everyday. It’s easy to get lost in the daily tasks of survival mode. A spiritual study can help move your life beyond what simply must be done to get by. It can help you to truly live.

Ways to Embrace Spirituality

We’ll examine ways to become more spiritual in depth throughout the rest of this month, but I’d like to give you a few suggestions for how you can get started embracing spirituality right now. One of the best ways is to set aside time each day for yourself. If this goal seems too much or too indulgent, you can begin by at least carving out some time a few days each week to devote to yourself. Self-care, reading, enjoying a favorite hobby or pursuing a new interest are all activities you can engage in to help you feel renewed and to mindfully nurture yourself, making you a priority. It’s also spiritually rewarding to do good deeds for others. This can be as simple as taking time to visit an elderly neighbor who doesn’t see family often or by taking on a full-fledged volunteer campaign to help a local charity. When you work on behalf of those in need, you’re making a connection that transcends the everyday interaction. You could also take time each day to just practice gratitude, making a list of what’s good in your life and giving thanks. This act acknowledges your fortune to the universe and demonstrates your appreciation. There are so many other ways in which you can bring the spiritual into your daily life.

Spirituality Vs. Religion

Though the terms were once used interchangeably, spirituality and religion are seen by most to be two separate things. Spirituality can be an aspect that falls under the umbrella of religion. It’s part of what makes up a religious practice. But religion itself refers more to a formal and organized group or study that revolves around a common belief system, deity or deities. The purpose of religions is to spread their teachings, as well as to nurture a following that continues throughout generations. Spirituality is a bit more personally focused. It refers to the way an individual views her or his own belief system and pursuit of life’s meaning.

Hopefully, you now feel confident that you have an understanding of the concept of spirituality. It is a broad term that encompasses quite a bit. Ultimately, what’s important is the way in which you feel it pertains to you and your goals.

30 Days of Meditation and Spirituality

Welcome to 30 Days of Meditation of Spirituality! I’m so happy you’ve decided to join me in a month-long challenge to learn more about meditating, spiritual study and the ways in which these pursuits can improve your life. During this time, we’ll cover a lot of material in small daily posts that will help you understand each aspect of developing your own unique practice toward developing a higher perspective and inner peace.

To begin, we’ll define the concepts of meditation and spirituality, to ensure we’re working from the same page. I’ll share with you various types of meditation and the ways in which meditating can enhance your spiritual experience. We’ll discover ways to make it easier to incorporate meditation into your daily life, as well as how you shape your own spiritual practice according to your personal belief system. You’ll likely be surprised just how many benefits that meditation offers and how adding a focus on spirituality can significantly change your life.

Seeking worldly or material gains is a significant part of many people’s lives. However, meditation and spirituality allow you to surpass those things, focusing on a higher good. They lead you to the attainment of a sense of inner-peace and well-being that guides your entire existence. Cultures far and wide have practiced meditation throughout the ages, as part of a larger devotional study.

There is evidence to show that meditation has been in practice since approximately 5000 to 3500 BC. Archaeologists discovered wall depictions in the Indus Valley of people in a seated, crossed-leg position in which they appeared to be meditation.  Meditation was actually described in Indian writings from about 3000 years ago. It’s not only the Indian and other eastern cultures have engaged in this practice through the centuries. Its appeal has grown to be worldwide.

Naturally, practices differ in various cultures. However, meditation of some sort seems to be a component of most major religious practices globally. Specific religions that incorporate this method of mindfulness include Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Taoism, among others. It was in the early 20th century that the tradition found its way to the United States, and it enjoyed a huge spike in popularity beginning in the 1960’s. The trend continues today, with meditation having become quite mainstream.

As you can see, meditation is actually rather universal, no matter how it’s practiced. I can’t wait to share more about the fundamentals of meditation and spirituality with you in its many forms. Let’s get started!