There was a time when the word meditation evoked an image of robe-clad monks sitting cross-legged, silently meditating for hours, an image that made meditation look uncomfortable, difficult and not worth the trouble. However, meditation doesn’t have to be complicated, and with daily practice, it can improve the health of your body, mind and soul. Taking 10 minutes out of your day to mindfully pay attention to your breath is all that’s necessary to begin a simple meditation practice. It can be easy to do, and it’s free! Here are five proven benefits to meditation: Helps reduce stress. Anxiety expert and psychiatrist, Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, says that daily practice of meditation trains you to manage stress in a positive way, and it helps reduce symptoms of anxiety. Spending a few minutes in meditation restores your calm, balance and inner peace. Research has also shown that these benefits don’t stop when your meditation ends, but stay with you throughout the day—a great reason to add meditation to your morning ritual. Decreases depression and increases your well-being. Psychologists from the University of Exeter published a study showing that mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises can have better success in helping depression than medication or counseling. When you meditate, you increase your emotional well-being, refocus your attention, and reduce negative thoughts. (A practice to try is walking meditation.) Improves the health of your brain. Research suggests that meditation slows down and even reverses changes in the brain due to aging. Neuroscientist, Dr. Sara Lazar, is one of the first scientists to research the benefits of mindfulness meditation. Her results have shown that meditating literally changes your brain. As we age, our gray matter—an area in the frontal cortex associated with memory and decision-making—shrinks. Her findings showed that 50-year old meditators had the same amount of gray matter as 25-year-olds. Lazar also found that 8 weeks of meditation improves the overall health of the brain; it increases cognition, empathy and compassion, and reduces levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Increases your focus. Meditation increases your concentration, helping to control mind-wandering and short attention spans. Sustaining your attention is generally one of the key elements of meditation. By focusing on your breathing, you give your mind space to relax and cultivate clarity. (Try this meditation from Gaiam.) Helps you sleep better. Because meditation increases relaxation, it should not be a surprise that it also helps you sleep better. Ending your day with meditation is a tranquil and meaningful way to take a moment to slow down and let go. During your meditation, you could add some gentle self-reflection, acknowledging and giving gratitude for your day. (Try these meditations from Mind Body Green.) Remember, when it comes to meditation, it doesn’t have to be difficult. Keep it simple, and create a daily practice that seamlessly fits into your life. The evidence proves its healthy benefits, but the only real way to know this is to try it for yourself!
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