In today’s episode, we’re going to fully explore the profound practice of meditation. I’ll explain what meditation is, the vast scientific research validating its benefits, and provide an in-depth guide to incorporating meditation into your daily self-care routine.
Regular meditation practice has been shown to reduce stress, increase happiness, improve health, and transform one’s life in countless positive ways. By learning to quiet the mind and be present, you can tap into this amazing mind-body medicine free of charge. So let’s dive deep into the what, why, and how of meditation!
What Is Meditation?
Let’s start with the basics. Meditation is the practice of focusing your attention completely on the present moment in order to settle and calm the mind. It falls under the larger umbrella of mindfulness, which involves maintaining awareness of your experience in the here and now.
The goal is to clear your mind from its usual frantic pace of thoughts about the past and future so you can be fully present. This creates mental space to process emotions, access deeper parts of yourself, and become more attuned with your mind and body.
On a biological level, meditation induces shifts in your brain waves from the activated beta waves of normal waking life to slower alpha and theta brain wave patterns. Alpha waves are the bridge between conscious focus and deep relaxation where you are awake but very calm and centered. Theta waves tap into the subconscious mind and are restorative for the nervous system.
Other brain frequencies like delta and gamma may also arise during deep meditation. Being able to move your brain waves between these different states gives you greater control over your state of consciousness.
The more you meditate, the easier it becomes to access a meditative state of mindfulness as you go about your day.
The Science Validating the Benefits of Meditation
Now that you understand the state of being meditation facilitates, let’s explore the vast scientific research revealing its profound benefits for both mental and physical health. Study after study continues to show that meditation dramatically improves wellbeing on multiple fronts.
First, meditation has been proven to enhance mental health in significant ways:
- It effectively reduces anxiety and lifts mood. Meditation calms the nervous system and has been shown to be as effective as medication and therapy for treating anxiety and depression.
- It substantially decreases stress levels by lowering inflammatory stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Meditation returns the nervous system to a balanced, relaxed parasympathetic state to counteract chronic stress.
- It elevates focus, concentration and attention span by producing increased alpha and theta brain waves that optimize cognitive function. Meditators often describe developing a “laser focus” from practice.
- It builds emotional intelligence by helping you observe emotions as transient events in the mind, increasing emotional regulation and EQ.
- It also enhances working memory and increases gray matter volume in brain areas related to cognitive function like the hippocampus and frontal cortex.
Additionally, research has revealed powerful benefits of meditation for physical health:
- It lowers blood pressure by dilating blood vessels through soothing the nervous system, enhancing healthy circulation.
- It reduces heart rate by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, improving heart rate variability and vagal tone.
- It decreases systemic inflammation by lowering inflammatory stress hormones and chemicals, helping resolve inflammatory conditions.
- It bolsters the immune system by increasing natural killer cells, neutrophils, T-cells, and anti-viral proteins that fight infections.
- It promotes deeper, more restorative sleep by facilitating falling asleep and staying asleep, and increasing regenerative slow wave and REM sleep.
- It supports healthy longevity by boosting telomerase, an enzyme that repairs and lengthens telomeres – the protective caps on chromosomes that regulate aging.
- It effectively manages both acute and chronic pain, with meditators requiring less pain medication due to altered pain perception.
Furthermore, the combination of relieving mental stress and resolving physical inflammation means meditation can help reverse challenging chronic health conditions including: heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune disorders, GI issues, chronic pain, depression, neurodegenerative diseases, and more.
For any illness related to chronic stress, inflammation or mind-body imbalance, meditation can be a crucial part of effective treatment and prevention.
Given the wide-ranging benefits of meditation for optimizing mental, emotional and physical health, it’s no surprise research also shows it can significantly increase lifespan. By reducing causes of mortality like heart disease, hypertension, inflammation and stress, studies report meditators have on average a 29% lower risk of early death compared to non-meditators. The deep rest, anti-aging effects and protective benefits of meditation lead to longer, healthier lives.
When you take into account the full breadth of research, the evidence for meditation is simply overwhelming. This free, accessible mind-body practice has the power to profoundly enhance your relationships, work performance, physical vigor, emotional balance, mental clarity, stress levels, and overall wellbeing. It’s one of the most impactful health habits you can cultivate.
How to Start a Meditation Practice
Now that you understand the incredible science-backed benefits, let’s turn to how you can start experiencing these transformative results yourself through a regular meditation practice. Here are my top tips:
- First, get clear on your intention – why do you want to start meditating? What are your goals? Do you want to reduce anxiety, sleep better, gain inner peace, improve concentration, resolve a health condition, or something else? Setting a focused intention will motivate you to persist.
- Next, establish a consistent practice time that fits your daily routine – first thing in the morning and in the evening before bed are popular choices. Decide when meditation will work best for you. Block out time in your calendar and treat this window as non-negotiable to build the habit.
- Create a designated meditation space in your home that is quiet and tranquil. Light candles, play relaxing music, or use other cues to trigger a calm mindset when entering your practice area. Sit in the same spot daily.
- Get as physically comfortable as possible. Sit cross-legged, kneel on a cushion, sit in a chair, or lie down – whatever allows your back to be straight while relaxing any tension. Adjust positions whenever needed during practice.
- Start with breathwork for a few minutes before transitioning into formal meditation. Take long, slow deep breaths focusing on the sensation of inhaling and exhaling to activate relaxation responses.
- Bring your full attention to your chosen object of focus – either your breath or a repeated mantra. Return your focus gently whenever the mind wanders. Observe thoughts non-judgmentally, letting them pass by without engaging.
- Set a timer for your desired practice length when starting out, even if just 5-10 minutes. Slowly build up your meditation time to 20, 30 minutes or longer. End slowly by reconnecting to your body and environment.
- Jot insights and reflections down in a meditation journal after each session. Review regularly to see your progress and optimize your practice as needed. Be patient with challenges – difficulties are normal and will pass.
Additionally, explore different types of meditation to find the styles you most enjoy such as walking, movement, chanting, visualization, loving-kindness, or chakra meditations. Take classes, read books, listen to talks, and attend retreats to continually deepen your knowledge and experience.
The key is to make meditation a daily ritual just like brushing your teeth. Regular practice is what delivers the immense mental, emotional and physical transformations, even if some days feel more connected than others. With patience and persistence, you’ll be amazed at the positive life changes that unfold.
Starting and Sustaining an Effective Meditation Routine
To set your meditation practice up for ongoing success, here are some additional pro tips:
- Sit daily – Make meditation non-negotiable by practicing at the same time every day, just like brushing your teeth when you wake up and before bed. Skipping days makes it harder to stick to the routine.
- Start small – Don’t be intimidated by sitting to meditate for 30+ minutes if you’re new to it. Even just 5-10 minutes daily provides immense benefits. Slowly increase your practice time.
- Be consistent – Sit at the same time and in the same space daily to establish your ritual. Moving your meditation time around makes it harder to sustain consistency.
- Use guided meditations – If your mind has trouble settling, use an app, audio or video guide to walk you into a calm state until you can enter it directly.
- Attend retreats – Deepen your practice exponentially by attending weekend or multi-day intensive meditation retreats offered widely. Immersing yourself accelerates progress.
- Find community – Join local in-person meditation groups or online communities to gain inspiration, accountability and support on your journey.
- Read books – Dive into the many excellent books on meditation to troubleshoot obstacles, deepen understanding and augment motivation.
- Keep learning – Take classes, workshops and trainings from experienced teachers to evolve your practice and comprehension of meditation.
- Apply mindfulness – Bring meditative presence into everyday activities like eating, exercising, working and conversing to integrate mindfulness into living.
- Be patient – Remember that taming your mind’s tendencies takes time and patience. Persist through difficulties calmly without self-judgment.
- Trust the process – Know that inner transformation happens subtly over time with regular practice. Don’t get discouraged early on. Trust the process.
By embracing meditation as an indispensable part of your self-care routine – just like adequate sleep, nutrition and exercise – you’ll be amazed at the positive changes that unfold in your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
Actualize Your Fullest Potential Through Meditation
I hope this comprehensive guide gives you confidence in the extraordinary benefits of meditation, and a roadmap to start optimizing your health through establishing a consistent practice. Make meditation a priority and see your stress dissolve, mood lift, focus sharpen, and sense of inner peace expand. Your mind, body and spirit will thank you!
Please reach out if you need any support on your meditation path. I’m excited for you to actualize your fullest wellness potential through this life-changing ancient practice backed by an abundance of contemporary scientific research. You have an incredible inner world waiting to be discovered. So get started today! Just sit, breathe, and be fully present.
If you want to learn more about how use meditation to recover from stress and trauma, and how to heal using Dr. Doni’s Stress Recovery Protocol® which involves optimizing cortisol and adrenaline levels using nutrients, herbs and C.A.R.E.™, her proprietary program to support clean eating, adequate sleep, stress recovery and exercise, you can read all about it in her book Master Your Stress Reset Your Health.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, tired, or just not feeling yourself you’re not alone. Chronic stress takes a tremendous toll on our mental and physical health. But there are proven techniques to counteract its impact and cultivate calm and resilience – even in chaotic times.
Join me for my FREE virtual masterclass – Calm in the Storm: Research-Backed Techniques for Healing Your Body and Mind. It will be live on Friday, November 17th at 9 PM Eastern Time, which is the same as Saturday November 18th at 9 AM Philippines time.
For the most comprehensive support, even with the most difficult health issues (physical or mental), it is best to meet with Dr. Doni one-on-one, which is available to you no matter where you are in the world (via phone or zoom). You can set up a one-on-one appointment here.
I hope this overview presented some new possibilities for improving your own mental and physical health or supporting loved ones on their journeys. Please know that healing is absolutely within reach. As we just saw, small steps add up to big transformations over time. You deserve to reclaim your best health and most vibrant, balanced life.
We’re here to help you!
Connect with Dr. Doni:
- Facebook https://facebook.com/drdoniwilson
- Instagram https://instagram.com/drdoniwilson
- YouTube https://youtube.com/user/DoniWilsonND
- Weekly Wellness Wisdom Newsletter: https://doctordoni.com/www
More Resources from Dr. Doni:
- Start with Dr. Doni’s Stress Quiz:
- Latest Book: Master Your Stress, Reset Your Health
- Stress Warrior Book
- Stress Warrior Stress Resiliency Group (FREE)
- 7-day SelfC.A.R.E Stress Reset
- HPV Recovery Guide (FREE)
Disclaimer: This specific article and all other Content, Products, and Services of this Website are NOT intended as, and must not be understood or construed as, medical care or advice, naturopathic medical care or advice, the practice of medicine, or the practice of counseling care, nor can it be understood or construed as providing any form of medical diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease.
Tang, Y., Holzel, B., & Posner, M. (2015). The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16(4), 213-225. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn3916
Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E., Gould, N., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., Berger, Z., Sleicher, D., Maron, D., Shihab, H., Ranasinghe, P., Linn, S., Saha, S., Bass, E., Haythornthwaite, J. (2014). Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(3), 357–368. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018
Pascoe, M., Thompson, D., Jenkins, Z., & Ski, C. (2017). Mindfulness mediates the physiological markers of stress: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 95, 156-178. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2017.08.004
Black, D., & Slavich, G. (2016). Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1373(1), 13–24. https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.12998
Creswell, J., Taren, A., Lindsay, E., Greco, C., Gianaros, P., Fairgrieve, A., Marsland, A., Brown, K., Way, B., Rosen, R., & Ferris, J. (2016). Alterations in resting state functional connectivity link mindfulness meditation with reduced interleukin-6: A randomized controlled trial. Biological Psychiatry, 80(1), 53–61. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.01.008
Pascoe, M., Thompson, D., Ski, C. (2017). Yoga, mindfulness-based stress reduction and stress-related physiological measures: A meta-analysis. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 86, 152-168. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2017.08.008
Gotink, R., Younge, J., Wery, M., Uiterwaal, C., Roos-Hesselink, J., Michels, M. Hunink, M. (2016). Online mindfulness as a promising method to improve exercise capacity in heart disease: Preliminary findings from a randomized controlled trial. PLoS ONE, 11(5), e0154873. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0154873
Schmidt, S., Grossman, P., Schwarzer, B., Jena, S., Naumann, J., & Walach, H. (2011). Treating fibromyalgia with mindfulness-based stress reduction: Results from a 3-armed randomized controlled trial. Pain, 152(2), 361-369. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pain.2010.10.043
Bhasin, M., Dusek, J., Chang, B., Joseph, M., Denninger, J., Fricchione, G., Benson, H., & Libermann, T. (2013). Relaxation response induces temporal transcriptome changes in energy metabolism, insulin secretion and inflammatory pathways. PLoS ONE, 8(5), e62817. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0062817