Here’s why you should anyway!
We all hear wise gurus detail the benefits of sitting in silence, of meditation. We hear our pastors preach that we should spend time in prayerful reflection every day, communing with God and being grateful. We usually nod and mentally say “yup…sounds like a good idea”. We may even try it for a time and enjoy it. But how many of you spend time every day, as a regular habit, just sitting in meditative silence with yourself (or your God)? I don’t mean the hours you sit in front of Facebook or Game of Thrones, although those are fun. I mean, meaningful, purposeful, meditative silence—the kind of silence where you aren’t making to do lists in your head, wondering what your spouse is doing, whether the laundry is done.
In this crazy busy world full of THINGS to do and places to go at every moment, it seems silly, almost counterproductive to just sit on your hind and just be. What if I told you that taking a few minutes every day in a space away from distractions that might derail you to just breathe was actually one of the most beneficial things you could do for not only your own mental health, but also for your own productivity? Think about this for a second. The alarm goes off, and you’re up and running. There are school buses to catch, work hours to clock, emails and text messages to answer. There is always something that needs cleaning and laundry never ends. Pets need tending and kids need dental checkups, not to mention you! The notifications on your phone from your favorite social media apps begin piling up any time you step away, and your Tivo is likely full of really great shows to watch. You’ve been meaning to try to exercise, and now most stores are open late or even 24 hours for more shopping fun…not to mention Amazon…
It’s no wonder “sitting still and being quiet” doesn’t look very attractive, or even sane. There’s always something else to do, and if you stop your never ending list of things to keep up with, you know they’ll just pile up even heavier. So you continue to slog along, feeling overwhelmed, often feeling frantic. You get a headache just looking at the laundry room and you stay up late finishing up your work project because you needed to spend time with the kids AND catch up on Grey’s Anatomy. Who has time to just sit still?
As it turns out, you do. Studies have shown that sitting in meditative reflection—that’s praying, doing simple breathing exercises, using your favorite mantra— are like “mental hygiene” and it could be just as important as brushing your teeth. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not just vegging out, there is some “action” involved. Our minds are much harder to still than our bodies.
Getting quiet for even 5 minutes in the morning allow anxiety to settle, not only in the few minutes during but lasting into the day. Researchers estimate that about 30%—a full third!— of North Americans have some type of anxiety disorder. Anxiety related drugs have skyrocketed over the last decade, and while not all disorders can be treated without medication, the likelihood that many anxiety issues are a direct symptom of how our society pushes more, faster, harder, now is high.
In addition to anxiety, being overworked and overstressed can crank up the emotions to a dangerous level. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t at some point blown a fuse at an unsuspecting friend or family member for a small request, not because of the request itself but because their own mental capacity was already past their limit. Have you ever felt like your fuse was short, you were at the end of your rope? Those aren’t signs to do more or have everyone get out of your way…those are clear signs for you to get out of your own way, to take a breather and reconnect with yourself even if it seems like pulling back is the dumbest idea ever when you have a full plate. Self-reflection, introspection, and just being quiet with your body allows you to recognize the emotions running through it, and slide a little space in between you and the anger, the frustration, the previously impending meltdown. Who wouldn’t want a little longer fuse every day?
Meditation also helps improve your concentration! I can’t remember (pun intended) how many times I’ve gone to the store and forgotten my list, only to realize I can only recall about half of the things I know I need. Most of us pack so much thinking and “to do” in our every day brain that we simply can’t retain it all. And what does forgetting half of what you need cause? Stress, delays in having to go back to the store, decreased productivity of your shopping trip, irritation at yourself for forgetting the list…all of which just piles more into an already overworked brain. Taking a few minutes to “clear the slate” and start fresh allows more mental energy to be accessed, leading to a more focused you.
If you’re like me and approaching 40, you may be side eyeing some heavy wrinkle creams, wondering which potions will help you not look like you’ve been tired since 2008. Researching which ones might actually work before you drop a week’s pay can be exhausting, but guess what? Meditation has you covered there, too! Brain scans have shown that regular meditators have more grey matter and longer telomeres—the caps on the ends of your chromosomes which show your biological age—and improves cognition, the benefits of which last well into your retirement age. Okay, so it doesn’t actually reduce fine lines and wrinkles, but reducing stress can definitely soften that forehead frown and make your brain feel 21 again.
Another benefit to your physical health? Meditation helps reduce your blood pressure (which can totally also help your face, I’m sure of it). There are studies where over 60% of patients were able to stop their blood pressure medication (under physician supervision, of course) simply by adopting a regular meditation practice. Less money spent on prescriptions means more money in your pocket while still reaping the same health benefits? Yes, please!
Now we can afford to buy that eye cream we’ve been wanting.