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  • Writer's pictureSmita Parikh, MD

What Does Meditation Actually Do?

Updated: Aug 13, 2020

Guest Blog Post by Joanne Verkuilen, Founder of Circle + Bloom

Just 5 Minutes a Day: That’s All it Takes to Change Your Brain – and Body – for the Better

Meditation can actually help you to change your brain. This idea is called neuroplasticity, and it goes against our assumption that “we are the way we are.” Our brains are actually changing all the time — and we can harness this ability to transform our mind and life. One powerful way to retrain your brain is with meditation and mindfulness.

Recent studies from Harvard University found that long-term meditators have increased amounts of gray matter in several areas of the brain. Meditation has literally changed their minds.

Why Would I Want to Retrain My Brain?

Your brain’s neural pathways guide your reactions to your life and the world around you. Feeling stressed about work or an upcoming IVF cycle? Binging on sweets at night? Dealing with anxiety, depression, or anger? You have the power to adjust your reaction and experience of all these situations by rewiring your brain. And meditation is the key.

How Does Meditation Work?

Meditation allows you to clearly see your thoughts as just that: thoughts. Our minds are constantly flooded with thoughts and without mindfulness training, they drive our actions without us even realizing it. But we have a choice about our actions — when we can recognize our thoughts, we can choose how (or whether) we respond to them. We can take the action that is in our own best interest.

I love the example that blogger Celestine Chua gives to explain the role of meditation. On her blog “Personal Excellence” she writes:

How often do you clean and tidy your room? When you don’t housekeep your room for an extended period of time, there will be so much dirt accumulated that it becomes an unpleasant place to live in. The air you breathe in will be unclean. The things will be untidy and disorganized. You can’t do things as productively as before.

Imagine your mind as a room. Every day, there is lots of junk that gets piled into ourselves – our mind, body, heart and soul. This junk comes from all sorts of different sources – the media, interactions with people, our environment, our work, or even self-generated from within.

A room needs to be cleaned and cleared regularly to be in a conducive state. A table needs to be wiped often to remove the dust and dirt that’s piled on top of it. Likewise, you need to meditate daily to be in your prime condition.”

A consistent, daily meditation habit — as little as 5 to 20 minutes a day — can create so many positive benefits.

15 Benefits of Meditation

You can experience both mental and physical changes as a result of regular meditation. While the mental effects may seem easier to understand, research has also documented extensive physical responses to meditation.

Mental Changes from Meditation

The process of recognizing the difference between you and your thoughts gives you greater control over your mental processes. It can help you to:

1. Reduce anxiety

2. Increase energy

3. Gain clarity of thought

4. Improve self-confidence

5. Improve emotional stability

6. Increase creativity

7. Tap into your intuition

8. Control anger

Physical Changes from Meditation

Meditation has a direct effect on your nervous system by reducing the body’s production of stress-related chemicals like cortisol, and increasing the production of mood-enhancing chemicals like serotonin. This results in:

1. Lower blood pressure and cholesterol

2. Stronger immune system

3. Lower stress and tension

4. Slowed aging process by reducing the body’s production of free radicals, which are responsible for aging, tissue damage, and possibly some diseases.

5. Lower levels of blood lactate, reducing anxiety attacks

6. More energy

7. Improved sleep quality

How to Start Meditating

Many people will feel some improved clarity or calmness from meditating just once for 5 to 10 minutes, the real benefits are cumulative. Each time you meditate, you build on the foundation you laid with the previous meditations. In a way, it is a form of mental hygiene — a habit of self-care that takes repetition and time to incorporate into your daily routine. But soon enough, you can’t imagine your day without it. Just like forgetting to brush your teeth in the morning — the day just doesn’t feel right without it!

One of the easiest ways to start is by listening to a guided meditation. Try our “Positive Thinking and Mindfulness” guided meditation and get a taste of the mental clarity and physical relaxation that the practice offers.

Joanne Verkuilen is the founder of Circle + Bloom which aims to share the incredible power of the mind-body connection. Her various programs and guided meditations are designed to empower anyone on their journey. Diagnosed with PCOS and the possibility of infertility as a late teen, she did struggle to conceive. She had two very different pregnancy experiences but it ended with two happy, beautiful children.  You can find more about Joanne Verkuilen at her website and by following her on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook.

When her friend Stephanie also started having fertility problems and seeing what she went through, this gave Joanne a business idea. Thus she created Circle + Bloom back in 2008. Exploring the connection between the mind and body, she created a meditation program for both infertility and cancer. Her company grew fairly into the scale that it is today and has since helped over 50,000 women worldwide.

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