Yes, they do really work! The fact is, science shows definite health benefits for people who use mindfulness and meditation.
Let’s make sure we’re on the same page when we say “mindfulness” and “meditation.”
“Meditation” is the ancient intentional practice of connecting the body and mind to become more self-aware and present. It’s often used to calm the mind, ease stress, and relax the body. Meditation often refers to formal, seated practice. There are many types of meditation. Examples include:
- Loving-Kindness meditation
- Mantra based meditation
- Visualization based meditation
- Guided meditation
A lot of people think its hard to meditate. Especially you type A’s who are very busy and your brains can’t shut down. Meditation especially is for you guys. I believe it is as necessary as brushing your teeth. Just like we have to rest our muscles after our workouts so they heal properly and come back stronger, we have to do the same for our minds. Its not about shutting the mind down exactly, but it is the exercise of catching your thoughts as they drift away and bring them back to the present moment and the intended focus. Each time you catch yourself drift away and can bring it back is a powerful exercise to for the mind. The more you do it, the less it will wonder. It is not until we can quite the noise in our heads can we tap into our creative selves. Our brains become stronger, healthier and more capable to guide us in the direction we desire. When we are constantly buzzing and our brains won’t shut off, we are often experiencing feelings of overwhelmed, anxiety, becoming short with those around us and carry a negative energy. Meditation is a practice used by some of the most successful people in the world to maintain and improve their focus. If it works for them, I bet it can work for you.
Mindfulness is all about being aware. When you are being mindful, you are noticing and paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and movements and the effects it has on others. Practicing “mindfulness” is one of the most popular ways to meditate. It’s defined as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”
They have similar intentions and you cannot meditate without being mindful, but you can be mindful without meditating.
Mindfulness meditation is well studied in terms of its health benefits. For simplicity, I will refer to it as “mindfulness” for the rest of the post.
The Link between Mindfulness and Health = Stress Reduction
Seventy-five to ninety percent of doctors’ visits are due to stress. Those are staggering statistics!!
If you ask me, it is logical to think that anything that can reduce stress can reduce health issues too.
Mindfulness reduces inflammation, reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and improves sleep. All of these can have massive effects on your physical and mental health.
I’ll briefly go over the research in three main areas: mood, weight, and gut health. But know that the research on the health benefits of mindfulness is branching into many other exciting new areas too.
Mindfulness for Mood
The most immediate health benefit of mindfulness is improved mood.
In one study, people who took an 8-week mindfulness program had greater improvement in symptoms according to the “Hamilton Anxiety Scale.” They were compared with people who took a stress management program that did not include mindfulness. It seems that the mindfulness training was key to lowering symptoms.
Other studies show that mindfulness has similar effects as antidepressant medications for some people with mild to moderate symptoms of depression.
While mindfulness isn’t a full-fledged cure, it can certainly help to improve moods.
Mindfulness for Weight
Studies show that people who use mind-body practices, including mindfulness, have lower BMIs (Body Mass Indices).
How can this be?
Mindfulness is linked with lower weight due to stress-reduction. Mindfulness can reduce stress-related and emotional overeating. It can also help reduce cravings and binge eating.
Another way it can work for weight is due to “mindful eating.” Mindful eating is a “non-judgmental awareness of physical and emotional sensations associated with eating.” It’s the practice of being more aware of food and the eating process. It’s listening more deeply to how hungry and full you actually are. It’s not allowing yourself to be distracted with other things while you’re eating, like what’s on TV or your smartphone.
People with higher mindfulness scores also reported smaller serving sizes of energy-dense foods. So, it seems that more mindful eating = less junk.
Mindfulness about food and eating can have some great benefits for your weight.
Mindfulness for Gut Health
Recent studies show a link between stress, stress hormones, and changes in gut microbes (your friendly bacteria and other critters that help your digestion). In theory, mindfulness-based stress reduction could be a way to help prevent negative changes in the gut’s microbes.
Also, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) seems to be linked with both stress and problems with gut microbes. In one study, people with IBS who received mindfulness training showed greater reductions in IBS symptoms than the group who received standard medical care.
I treated a client who had digestion issues for over 20 years. She had seen numerous doctors and specialists. Tried eliminating all the common irritating foods and nothing helped. Until that is, we addressed the stress in her life. No, I didn’t wave my magic wand and eliminate all her stress. But we did focus on techniques to help manage it. Practices that would help bring calmness to her body including a mindfulness meditation practice. When the body is under stress, digestion is the first mechanism to slow down. Your body thinks its in danger so digesting your oatmeal is of the least concern. Recognizing this and addressing it had a profound impact on her digestion and her life.
The research is just starting to show the important link between stress, gut health, and how mindfulness can help.
Science is confirming some amazing health benefits of the ancient practice of mindfulness meditation. For moods, weight, gut health, and more.
How To Include a Mindfulness Practice into Your Life
Not sure how? It doesn’t have to be an elaborate set up with candles and incense burning. Just a quiet space for a few minutes can help shape your day and your life.
I recognize that time is of the essence for everyone. Finding those moments can sometimes be a challenge. I carved out 10 minutes each morning. My routine consists of crawling out of bed, grabbing my glasses and heading downstairs all squinty eyed and sleepy. I set up my coffee maker and hit brew (because lets be real, that’s still a priority for me) As it is brewing, I sit myself on the living room floor in a meditation chair cuddled in a blanket. I use an app to listen to a guided meditation for 10 minutes. The exact time it takes for my coffee to brew. I choose an intention and settle in for these few moments to help set the tone for the day. Its only a few minutes but it has made an impact. It’s time that I used to just scroll on my phone desperately waiting for my coffee. Now those moments are better spent. And I get the bonus of the aroma off fresh coffee to fill the air during my practice.
Below are some resources to get you started on a mindfulness meditation practice. Interested to have a conversation about how to add more healthful practices into your life? CLICK HERE to book a call. As a Wellness coach with over 20 years experience, I have helped countless people take back control of their health through whole foods nutrition, functional movement and mindfulness practices.
BONUS Guided Meditation (videos, apps & podcasts)
How to Meditate video
How to Meditate in One Minute or Less Every Day video
Headspace App (free 10-day trial)
Daily Meditation Podcast
Hay House Meditations Podcast