How Meditation Can Change Your Life
Calm your inner sceptic: meditation has the power to heal insomnia, stress, overeating, unhappiness and even a tepid sex life. Here's how
For decades, meditation was something of a joke. It was done by hippies who had spent too much time holed up in Buddhist retreats, or Hollywood actors with excess time on their hands. But now meditation has hit the mainstream through a series of apps, including Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer.
Thanks to the wellness juggernaut, those who meditate are no longer the outliers—quite the opposite, in fact. Today, meditation has become one of the top wellness health hacks, recommended by everyone from your yoga teacher to actual scientists for soothing mental and physical health problems. Here are five ways meditation really can change your life.
Get The Happiness Bug
We all want to feel happier—but in an era of social media, dating apps and even jet-lag, sometimes it is harder than we think. Although, while life events do obviously play their part, scientists are starting to believe that we can exercise our brain into happiness.
One study at Kyoto University asked 51 volunteers to rate their own happiness levels and then scanned their brains to see if they could spot any differences between the positive individuals and their sadder counterparts. Interestingly, they quickly realised that a part of the brain called the precuneus was bigger in people who were happier, and that its size can fluctuate over time. This suggests that happiness can be worked on like a muscle. But through what exercise? You guessed it: meditation, which has been proven to boost grey matter in the precuneus. Which means all those who report feelings of bliss after meditation have cold, hard science on their side.
Reduce Stress And Increase Focus
Meditation teacher Bob Roth has found a solution to what he describes as ‘the epidemic of stress’, through his book Strength in Stillness. In an over-medicated era, the one thing we can’t take a pill for is stress; but we can meditate. Studies show that when people meditate in conjunction with seeing a therapist, the results can be as powerful as taking a strong anti-anxiety medication. Rigorous trials show that one of the most important roles meditation can play is increasing our now goldfish-like attention spans. Today, we spend on average 47 percent of our waking hours thinking about something other than what we’re doing—but meditation practiced around mindfulness can give us our thoughts and concentration back, and help us get on with the task at hand.
There are few feelings as frustrating as lying awake at night desperately trying to get to sleep and getting progressively more awake as you worry about how tired you’ll be the next day. That cycle of thinking can feel overwhelming, but if you do find yourself struggling with sleep then you’re by no means alone. At any given time about 30 percent of people are having difficulty sleeping. And pretty much everyone will experience periods of sleeplessness at some point in their life. But instead of turning to pills, one way to really help you get those eight hours is meditation.
“I had real problems sleeping, but when I moved from Jakarta to Bali and discovered wellness techniques like meditation, it helped me no end,” says Gen.T honouree Vanessa Budihardja. And there’s no need to meditate just before bed—although that can help—as the stress-relieving properties of a good meditation session will last you throughout the day.
Hello, Great Sex
While sitting silently on your own with your eyes closed and your legs crossed doesn’t make most people think of sex, the two are in fact linked. As any parent of young children will tell you, the best contraceptive is stress and exhaustion. When we are stressed, major organs like the heart and muscles hold onto blood to continue working properly, diverting energy away from bodily systems that can't help us flee, like the digestive tract or reproductive parts.
Now, the problem with this fight or flight mode is that while it’s meant to work temporarily, many of us get stuck here due to the relentless nature of modern life, meaning our body is constantly in alert mode. In prehistoric times, our ancestors were not mating when a hungry pride was nearby, just like modern humns aren't mating when their inbox feels overwhelming. But if you reduce cortisol through meditation—the stress hormone that causes that panicked response—then you can redirect energy and blood flow to other parts of the body.
Get Control Of Your Weight
Now, we’re definitely not suggesting that everyone needs to reach a proscribed body weight or type—but for those of us who do want to lose or put on weight, meditation can help. When entrepreneur and former model Sarah Anne Stewart developed anorexia, she was worried she’d never be able to have a normal relationship with food again. The founder of Holistically Slim has subsequently dedicated her career to teaching others that what you eat is only a small piece of having a healthy relationship with food and your body.
And while you may ask what sitting and burning zero calories can really do to help you regulate weight, the answer would be, rather a lot. Stewart realised that through hours of meditation, she finally understood where the issues she had with food came from and what she would need to do to stay at a healthy weight; many of her clients came to similar realisations about why they over-eat or give up on their diets too soon. Which means you might just be justified in swapping that dawn boot-camp class for a morning of quiet contemplation in your living room.