You may know that meditating is good for your mind, but did you know that it can also benefit your body?
The practice of calming the mind generates a response in your brain that directly affects you on a physical level.
It may not be a change you can see, like when you go to the gym and exercise regularly; rather, it is something that you will feel within. And your doctor may even notice, too!
We spend so much of our days feeling trapped inside of the mind- constantly planning for the future, whether it’s your next meal or a big project at work.
Meditation allows you to release all of that so you can tune inward and experience yourself without the chatter of your mind.
First and foremost, meditation directly affects your parasympathetic nervous system. Your parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for slowing down the heart rate.
The sympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, is responsible for creating the “fight or flight” response, which is how the body reacts to stress. In other words, your heart rate speeds up and your muscles become more tense as less essential functions of your body shut down.
The “fight or flight” mode is basically survival mode for emergency situations; however, because it is an automatic part of the body, you may be operating regularly from the SNS and not even know it. Both are part of the autonomic nervous system, which accounts for the body’s involuntary actions.
Have you ever gotten into an argument and noticed that your heart rate starts to race and your jaw feels tight? This is the SNS.
If you have ever wished to make challenging situations such as these a little easier, meditation can help- and it starts with its effect on the body. The parasympathetic nervous is responsible for the body’s ability to heal itself.
A meditation practice will expedite the body’s ability to recover from stress so that the body can repair and restore itself, whether you are recovering from a physical injury or just dealing with an argument.
If you are constantly operating from the opposite system- the SNS- you are stressing body, which means healing times are slower for physical injuries and ‘lashing out’ during heated moments tends to happen. Even though these two systems control our involuntary actions (have you ever thought, I don’t know why I reacted like that?), through meditation we can actually learn to respond to intense situations in not only a way that is beneficial for the mind, but also the body.
Allowing yourself to slow down through a meditation practice will also strengthen your immune system. The stress hormone, cortisol, is often overproduced when under pressure, which can pose a threat of illness and disease.
Meditation will help to reduce the manufacturing of cortisol in the body, which will also decrease your stress levels.
Meditation will also increase your lung capacity. Increased lung capacity is associated with slower respiration, a lower heart rate, and the ability to take longer and deeper breaths. Elevated heart rates are associated with common health problems such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, and other cardiac issues.
Meditation can be used to consciously combat these ailments.
Meditation also promotes better sleep. When the mind is clear and the breathing is deep and slow, the body will be able to relax more fully. Not only does this help to ease insomnia, but it also improves the overall sleep quality.
A regular meditation practice will also help you focus, which can enhance athletic performance. On the flip side, if you have a desk job where you feel constricted all day, meditation could help to ease your body to focus better on your projects at hand.
If you start meditating, a way you may be able to notice its effects on your physical body is to measure your heart rate. There are smartphone apps available for this today. You can measure your heart rate before and after meditation. And over an extended period of time, you can check your heart rate upon waking and see if it improves (if your heart rate is high) or lowers (it is normally between 60-80 bpm).