Not sure why you should begin meditation? Not sure how to begin? Let Megan Monahan, the director of meditation at Wanderlust Hollywood, help you get started.
Settle in, find a comfortable seat, and begin to connect with your breath, feeling the ebb and flow of the air moving through your body. Gently close your eyes to move further inward, and let your hands rest comfortably on your knees—palms up if you’re looking for more energy; palms down if you’re looking for more grounding.
Now press play. And let yourself go.
OK—still need more convincing as to why this is a good idea? Here are five good reasons to start a meditation practice.
Sleep Better: More Shut-Eye at Night Means Brighter Days
Sleep isn’t just relaxation for eight hours a day—it’s essential to our cognitive functioning. Meditation gives you all sorts of benefits, like enhanced REM sleep and increased levels of melatonin.
Turns out it can even help serious sleep problems. Researchers conducted a study to see if mindfulness meditation would benefit those struggling with chronic insomnia. After eight weeks, those in the meditation training had less total wake time during the night, were more relaxed before going to bed, and reduced the severity of their sleep problems. Plus, in a follow-up study six months later, the insomnia sufferers had maintained a better quality of sleep.
Stress Less: Make Room for More Happiness
It’s a little-known secret that Wall Street execs, famous artists, and Silicon Valley whiz kids are some of the biggest advocates of meditation as a way to manage stress.
A 2005 study at Harvard Medical School found that meditation increases the thickness of your prefrontal cortex, the area of your brain associated with attention and self-awareness.
Furthermore, we now know it even reduces employee stress and burnout. A study on teachers at a school for children with severe behavioral problems who were treated to a Transcendental Meditation program had less stress, less depression, and overall lower burnout than other teachers.
More Mindful Meals: No More Stress Eating
Researchers at UC San Francisco studied a group of women to test if meditating could prevent overeating. The scientists didn’t prescribe any diet, but instead taught mindful eating, and had participants meditate for thirty minutes a day. What happened? While the control group actually gained weight, the treatment participants maintained their weights, plus lowered their cortisol levels. Higher reductions in cortisol and stress also showed higher reductions in abdominal fat.
Reduce Pain and Heal Faster: Relieve Pain by Changing Your Mind
Jon Kabat- Zinn, who heads up the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at University of Massachusetts Medical School, proved back in the ‘80s that meditation and mindfulness could significantly improve pain symptoms and quality of life in chronic pain patients, even up to four years later. His program, called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is practiced widely.
Recently, we’ve also gotten a look at how the brain might be involved. When researchers had people participate in four days of mindfulness-based training, participants reported less pain intensity and unpleasantness. What’s more, MRIs showed reductions in pain-induced cerebral blood flow during meditation sessions.
Beat Anxiety: Send Worries Packing
Focusing on all the terrible things that might happen to us—but often don’t!—takes us away from the present, and causes our bodies a lot of stress.
Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, found that meditation could even help those with generalized anxiety disorder, a condition marked by hard-to-control worries, poor sleep, and irritability.
Parts of this piece originally appeared on Wanderlust.com in July, 2015.