How meditation can improve your mental health

Yes, meditation is a significant element of yoga practice. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, meditation (or dhyana) is listed as one of the eight essential elements of yoga, otherwise known as 8 Limbs of Yoga (here is a quick blog on how the 8 Limbs can offer you a path to growth and wellness)

There is a misconception that meditation is akin to having to empty your mind. That’s not entirely true. Meditation is a state of acute awareness - of your surroundings, physical body, and mind. Instead of being seemingly absent-minded, we are in fact keenly present when we meditate.

Being able to achieve the state of stillness of the body and mind is not easy. It takes time to develop a solid meditation practice, but the benefits are worth it.

Regular meditation practice offers physical benefits, including improved sleep, better pain management, blood pressure and even brain function. As well as having a positive effect on our body, mindful meditation supports our mental well-being.

Over the years, there has been a generous amount of research focused on the relationship between meditation and mental health. For instance, a 2012 review conducted a meta-analysis of 36 randomized controlled trials to see if meditation can be used to reduce anxiety. 25 out of 36 trials reported better outcomes in meditation groups compared to control groups. A literature review published in 2014 identified 47 clinical trials aiming to determine the efficacy of meditation programs in reducing psychological stress and stress-induced outcomes. The review found moderate evidence that meditation has a positive effect on people suffering from anxiety and depression.

Why is meditation good for mental health?

It promotes self-awareness. As our practice develops, meditation allows us to be more mindful of our thoughts and emotions. It leads us to discover the source of our anguish and encourages a more honest and open approach to self.

It induces a state of relaxation. Mental health issues often stem from stressful situations we encounter on a daily basis. Incorporating 5-10 minutes of breathing and contemplation into your day lets you cool off and release tension. Down the line, you may even notice that you no longer react to stress in the same way.

It makes us less reactive. Finding and maintaining the stillness necessary for meditation teaches us patience and restraint. When we encounter a stressful situation, the first instinct is often to either lash out or to run away. By developing a regular practice, you can condition yourself to be less reactive, and act in a constructive, thoughtful manner instead.

How to get started

Find a comfortable position. You can meditate while seated, standing, lying down, or even walking! Keeping the body still makes it easier for the mind to follow suit. Common yoga poses for meditation include sitting cross-legged (Sukhasana), lotus seat (Padmasana), kneeling (Virasana or Vajrasana), or supine position (Savasana). You could also sit on a chair or lean back against the wall, as long as you can maintain your position for 5-10 minutes.