In our busy world, moments of quiet and inner reflection seem increasingly rare. Meditation can help you refocus your attention inward, quiet your thoughts, and refresh your spirit. It also offers significant health and wellness benefits.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation isn’t a single activity. The term covers a wide variety of practices that tend to our minds, spirits, and bodies. They include:
- Focused or concentration meditation: The individual focuses all their concentration on just one thing, such as your breath, a candle flame, the sound of a gong, or counting beads.
- Mindfulness meditation: The individual pays close attention to their thoughts as they pass through their mind, but tries not to judge or engage with them. Instead, they search for patterns that can bring them to deeper self-understanding and awareness.
- Spiritual meditation: The individual uses total silence to let their mind wander and seek connection with the greater universe.
- Movement meditation: The individual uses movement to guide their meditation. While activities such as walking and dancing can be meditative, many people associate movement meditation with yoga, tai chi, and qigong.
- Mantra meditation: The individual uses repetitive sounds or phrases as part of their meditation to clear the mind.
Depending on your unique circumstances, you might prefer one form of meditation over another or even a combination of two or several different disciplines.
Think about the situations where your mind is quietest — where you feel the most at peace and your energy focuses inward. If that occurs while you’re hiking in the woods, you might enjoy movement meditation. If you crave the quiet and stillness of an early morning, you might benefit from spiritual meditation. If silence makes you uncomfortable, mantra meditation might be more appealing.
How Can Meditation and Mindfulness Improve Your Health?
Myriad studies have examined the benefits of meditation. While the goal of meditation is quieting your mind and building self-awareness, a sustained meditation practice can also improve your overall health and wellness. Research suggests that meditation might:
- Reduce your stress and anxiety
- Help you cope with depression
- Assist with chronic pain management
- Improve your sleep
- Boost your immunity
- Lower your blood pressure
- Foster a healthier self-esteem
- Help you stop smoking and fight other addictions
- Ease the stress associated with chronic health conditions like ulcerative colitis and cancer
Meditation is particularly helpful for people with chronic medical conditions, such as cancer, since it can help ease anxiety, depression, and foster mental resilience.
Researchers are also examining the benefits of meditation for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), multiple sclerosis (MS), and fibromyalgia. Increasingly, psychologists and primary care physicians are embracing meditation and mindfulness as a complementary therapy that can supplement traditional medicine.
Simple Ways to Incorporate Meditation into Your Routine
You don’t have to build a dedicated meditation space or join a studio or center to benefit from a meditation practice. Instead, start small and follow these tips.
- Commit to a daily meditation. The more you practice meditation, the greater the benefits. Many people choose to start their day with a brief meditation.
- Don’t get frustrated if your mind wanders. It takes time and practice to quiet your mind. When you get off-track, be kind to yourself and refocus your energy.
- Keep your early meditations short. Most people start by meditating for only two or three minutes at a time.
- Don’t worry about the details. You don’t need a fancy meditation chair, gong, or an eye mask to calm your mind.
- Look for reputable mentors and teachers. Several Canopy Health alliance partners offer meditation and yoga classes (see below).
If you have specific health concerns that make meditation appealing, discuss them with your primary care physician (PCP). Your doctor might recommend a specific meditation program or class that is tailored to your needs. Visit our website to find the right PCP for your unique health and wellness needs.
Meditation Classes Are Available Within the Canopy Health Alliance
Many of the hospitals and clinics within the Canopy Health alliance offer meditation and mindfulness classes.
- UCSF Health runs courses on mindfulness-based stress reduction, meditation for cancer patients, and other health and wellness programs at the Osher Center for Integrative Health.
- Marin General Hospital’s Center for Integrative Health and Wellness offers a wide variety of programs, including free qigong, mindfulness and guided relaxation, and tai chi classes.
- Washington Hospital Healthcare System’s Wellness Center has regular meditation classes focusing on heartfulness meditation, mindful meditation, yoga, and tai chi.
- Sonoma Valley Hospital schedules regular mindful meditation and movement programs.
You can also ask your PCP about meditation classes and programs in your community.
Black, D., Slavich, G. (2016, June). Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940234/
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (2017, September 7). Meditation: In depth. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov