Many see meditation as a magic cure-all for stress and anxiety or for decompressing after a long day.
But is it really as effective as we believe it to be? And, by extension, does it have a tangible effect on our lives?
In my opinion, meditation works for everyone, but to varying degrees. Whilst everyone would benefit from regular practice, not everyone experiences identical results.
Like exercise for the body, some practitioners may derive greater benefits in the form of enhanced performance compared to others.
But whether you’re training to become a Shaolin monk, or simply seek to improve your general self-awareness, a regular contemplative routine is crucial.
Who should meditate?
As a follow-up to the above statement, everyone should meditate. Of course, its effects will be far more beneficial for people in certain mental states.
Meditation will be best for:
- People who are stressed. In its most basic form, meditation is a way to step back from our lives and take some quiet time to relax.
- People who lack focus. Meditation teaches mental discipline, which then improves your focus.
- People who want to connect with others. By extension, improving focus helps you to connect better with others because you can give them your full attention.
- People with mental chatter. Do you have a busy brain that won’t switch off? Meditation can teach you to quieten this inner voice.
But what about people with depression, anxiety or other mental issues? Sure, meditation can help you to become more aware of the root of your pain or intrusive thoughts.
That said, it can’t help on its own. Meditation should always be used alongside other treatments and expert psychological intervention if required. Just as exercising alongside eating well is vital as part of a healthy lifestyle, it’s about balance.
Benefits of mindfulness
You can largely work out the benefits of meditation from the above comments on who should meditate. To make things clearer, here is a breakdown of the biggest benefits of meditation.
1. Lowers stress
Stress is quite literally a killer. Significant anecdotal evidence suggests meditation reduces stress, which was actually confirmed in a scientific study.
A 2014 systematic review of 47 trials found that meditation programmes helped to reduce levels of stress. Other studies tested the impact of meditation on stress-related conditions such as IBS, fibromyalgia, and PTSD.
The results suggest meditation can help in these instances.
2. Helps with anxiety and depression
The 2014 meta-analysis above also concluded that meditation has a moderate impact on anxiety and depression after 8 weeks of a meditation course.
3. Improves emotional health and self-awareness
Meditation is an introspective practice, meaning you use it to look inside yourself. Taking the time to be alone with your thoughts helps you become more self-aware, and, in time, improve your emotional health.
4. Increases attention span
Meditation requires discipline and self-control, as it requires you to sit and cultivate awareness. Over time, this improves attention span, allowing you to meditate for longer.
A 2018 review found that a meditation programme improved attention span and memory recall in participants when compared to a control group.
Meditation not working?
If you’ve tried meditation and don’t think it’s working, there’s probably a reason. The most common is that few of us have the required attention span, meaning we can’t stay still long enough to feel the benefit or abandon the practice prematurely.
Meditation is much like anything else: it takes practice. What’s more, there are numerous types of meditation that provide different benefits. It might be that a different technique would be more suitable.
Spend some time researching different types of meditation to see if one suits your needs. If you’re struggling to get started, it might help to join a class so you can have specific guidance from a meditation teacher.
The challenges of meditation often present barriers to continued practice. Either you feel it doesn’t work or you use these challenges as an excuse to not get started.
But, if you’re serious about becoming more mindful, you’ll need to overcome these challenges:
1. Lack of time
It’s common to not have enough time for anything, let alone meditation. But, this is an easy one to overcome.
In the beginning, you’ll only need 5 minutes or so, which should be possible for even the busiest of schedules.
As you begin to see the benefits, change your perception. Include meditation as a part of your core routine, like brushing your teeth or showering. Then, you’ll have to make time.
Lack of attention manifests as impatience. A common meditation practice is to identify this feeling and then simply observe it during your practice.
When you feel it creeping in, notice the feeling and simply bring your attention back to the present moment. Over time, this will become much easier to do.
3. Stopping too soon
It can take a while to start feeling the benefits of meditation. Then, once you notice them, it can be tempting to stop because you’ve reached a certain ‘result’.
But, there is no goal with meditation. Instead of psychological trophies to be won, try to view mindfulness practice as an end in itself.
Advice for the uninitiated
Before you get started, use these tips to enter into meditation with the right mindset.
- Don’t start with expectations about how you’ll feel. Just go along with it.
- Choose a time to meditate, and stick to it every day. This helps create a feeling of routine.
- Create a meditation space; ensure it’s quiet and relaxing.
- Prep your mind before meditation. Spend 5 minutes winding down.
- Breathe deeply and regularly to relax your body. Focus on your breath to keep your mind engaged.
- Sit comfortably, but not too comfortably.
- Never criticise yourself, but always acknowledge thoughts and feelings.
- After establishing a regular meditation habit, slowly increase your daily practice from 5 to 30 minutes.
- Commit to meditating every day otherwise you’ll miss out.
Does meditation work for everyone?
With the right level of commitment and practice, meditation can work for everyone. If you’ve tried before and didn’t enjoy it, consider a different style.
There are plenty of courses and books available to narrow down your choices and improve your chances of success.