Johnson: Meditation improves mental health, social health

Johnson: Meditation improves mental health, social health
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The widespread benefits of incorporating a regular meditation practice into a daily routine has the power to grant us more control over stressful events, while promoting healthier mental habits overall.

Our minds are tasked with the important job of repairing the damage that prolonged stress can cause, rendering us less likely to be fully engaged in the present moment, and more likely to be emotionally disconnected from those around us. Imagine if meditation became the new daily norm, next to brushing our teeth. Sitting with the silence of our minds for a few minutes a day can greatly improve one’s quality of life.

The idea that meditation optimizes both mental and physical health has been the focus of numerous scientific studies over the past decade. The demands of our daily lives often leave our minds overstimulated with countless agendas and to-do lists, but according to Professor John Edwards of Oregon State University’s School of Psychological Science, active mindfulness and meditation practices can help relieve stress, alleviate high blood pressure, reduce physical pain and mitigate the effects of some psychological disorders.

It’s common knowledge that stress builds tension within the body that can likely lead to the development of health problems down the road. This can also lead us to be more reactionary to negative events that we could have otherwise brushed off or ignored. Stress limits our ability to enjoy the present moment, as well as our ability to fully empathize with others. Adopting meditation as a part of a daily routine can offer solutions to these problems by improving the brain and its responses to negative events.

While everyone practices meditation for different reasons, whether it be to reduce anxiety or to develop their concentration, the benefits of making it a habitual practice are undeniable.

“Meditation helps people to ‘ramp down’ their bodily reactions to stressful events more quickly,” Edwards said. “This has to do with enhancing a physiological indicator called vagal tone, which has to do with the ability of the body to go efficiently from a ‘fight or flight’ state to a more restful state.”

This vagal tone is linked to a number of common health problems such as depression, inflammation and cardiovascular disease.

In other words, implementing meditation into a daily routine wards off many common stress related ailments. Jim Gouveia, a staff counselor at OSU, also points out that meditation helps stave off anti-aging effects on the brain. According to Gouveia, the neuro-plasticity of the brain allows it to grow throughout our lifetime, which contrasts with the outdated notion that our brains stop developing at a certain age.

“Meditation increases grey matter and allows the brain to grow and flourish, even with age,“ Gouveia said.

As a result, brain performance in memory, recall, mood and longevity are vastly improved.

Harvard Health Blog states that regular meditation routines offer more benefits for the brain than taking a vacation does. The 2016 Harvard University study showed that the participants who engaged in 12 hours of meditation over the course of a week, compared to another set of participants who simply went on a vacation, were still sustaining the active benefits of meditation 10 months later. These sustained benefits coincide with meditation’s ability to reduce our reactionary behaviors in response to stressful events.

Here are some tips for beginning to adopt meditation as a part of your daily ritual:

  • Practice patience.

It is inevitable that your mind will want to wander as it becomes impatient with the silence and inactivity of meditation. Be gentle with yourself and your thoughts as you recenter your attention on your natural breath whenever restlessness sets in.

  • Find a pose that you are most comfortable in.

Meditation does not always mean you must be in an upright sitting position. Some prefer to lay on the ground, to sit against the wall with a cushion, or they choose to take their practice outside for an active meditation.

  • Find a meditation guide using the web.

If you find yourself at a loss when it comes to trying meditation for the first time, searching for guided-meditation sessions using an app or Youtube video can help get you started.

  • Join a local class.

Counseling & Psychological Services on campus hosts a free meditation class on Thursdays from 3-4 p.m. There are also free ongoing guided meditations on Mondays from 6:30-8 p.m. at Westminster House in Corvallis.

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