What is meditation? The short answer: A potential life-changer.

The long answer: Meditation is a form of mind-body exercise used to calm the mind and decrease stress on your body.

The benefits alone should convince you to start meditating now. The world isn’t slowing down. We need ways to slow down to face it capably and healthily. Meditation isn’t a cure-all, but it has worked for many people for thousands of years.

What are the benefits of meditation?

One reason the practice of meditation stands the test of time is because it can improve both physical and emotional health. It can help you do the following:

1. Reduce anxiety

Mindful meditation, specifically, gets a strong thumbs-up as a way to limit anxiety and symptoms of anxiety-related disorders like phobias, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and panic attacks. A 2013 study done by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center on emotional responses to perceived threats showed mindful meditation strengthens your ability to regulate emotions.

2. Improve your quality of sleep

1 in 3 Americans are sleep-deprived. When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies get stressed out, as sleep deprivation makes your organs work harder. Without enough sleep, it’s also harder to concentrate and patiently deal with problems.

But because meditation can reduce stress and anxiety, it will help you sleep better. Getting the right amount (7-9 hours for adults) and quality (deep, uninterrupted) of sleep will help your body rest and repair overnight what needs attention in your body and mind.

3. Make your heart healthier

Meditating will help your heart since it reduces heart-revving anxiety and stress. Lowering stress and anxiety can lower heart rate, blood pressure and bad hormones, making it less likely for you to suffer heart attack or stroke, said Harvard Medical School.

4. Manage some symptoms of chronic illness

Meditation should not replace any medications or interventions prescribed by a medical doctor for your conditions. However, since stress wreaks havoc on our physical health, meditating to cut down on stress can reduce symptoms of asthma, chronic pain, depression, high blood pressure and tension headaches.

Types of Meditation

While there are many types of meditation, they share elements like focusing attention on the present and using controlled breathing. Meditation is done in a quiet setting, with the person placed comfortably with good posture. Some different types of meditation are:

  • Yoga—breathing, stretching, concentrating on perfecting postures
  • Guided meditation—visualizing places/events that help you feel relaxed
  • Mantra meditation—repeating calming word to prevent distracting thoughts
  • Mindfulness meditation—increasing awareness of present
  • Qi gong—Chinese meditation, relaxation, movement and breathing to achieve balance
  • Tai chi—Chinese martial art of combining breathing, gentle movements and postures

How to Start Meditating

The time to begin meditating is now, and anyone is capable of starting. - you can do it anywhere and it’s free. You can take classes or even just start yourself.

Remember to sit in a quiet, comfortable spot. Pay attention to your breath and your body. Breathe deeply and slowly. You can enhance your concentration on the present by repeating a mantra or prayer. Go as long as you can and don’t worry if you only manage several minutes to start.

While you’re at it, get used to leaving your self-judgment elsewhere. Meditation isn’t a process of critical analysis - it’s about awareness. If your mind wanders, gently refocus it. Start small and reap the benefits as you improve.