Meditation and Healthy Habits: A New Approach to Life and Health
If you type ‘healthy habits’ into google, you will get hundreds of articles and blog posts on how to live healthily and improve the quality of your life by making significant changes to your daily routine.
Nowadays, it seems that people are more interested than ever to cultivate healthy habits that will allow them to achieve physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
From eating ‘clean’ and exercising on a daily basis to having a tight sleep schedule and taking occasional digital breaks, people are beginning to understand the importance of healthy living and are motivated to pursue this lifelong goal.
Furthermore, the fact that we now have quick access to practical tips and valuable information about health and well-being gives us the chance to overcome our ‘bad’ habits and adopt a healthy lifestyle.
But as you will soon discover, pushing yourself to adopt healthy habits can be challenging and frustrating. It’s not easy to give up on a routine that has brought you comfort and satisfaction for countless years.
If you want to adopt healthier habits, you need to start by changing your mindset. You need to take a good look at yourself and put your life in perspective. You need to question your current habits and envision a better future self.
Fortunately, meditation can facilitate the mental preparation required to replace your ‘bad’ habits with healthy ones. This simple and accessible practice puts you in contact with your truest, most authentic self and helps you gain clarity.
Through meditation, you learn to look beyond your everyday habits and discover the ideals, beliefs, and values that stand behind your every action. And once you gain a better understanding of how your mind works and how you came to develop certain habits, it will be easier for you to cultivate a healthier lifestyle.
But first, let’s take a closer look at what habits are and how they impact our overall health.
What are Healthy Habits?
If we take a quick look in the Macmillan Dictionary, we discover that a habit is “something that you do often or regularly, often without thinking about it.”
While this definition offers a general idea of what habits are, it only covers the “visible” aspects. In other words, based on this definition, we know that any action we perform on a regular basis and in an almost automatically can be labeled as a habit.
However, there’s more to habits than meets the eye.
It is said that thoughts become words, which become decisions, which become actions. And actions are the building blocks of our destiny.
The things you do easily, regularly, and almost spontaneously are your routines, your habits. Good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, productive or unproductive, these habits are the expression of who you are on the inside.
We know for a fact that habits form through patience and repetition. But truth be told, no one knows precisely how long it takes to develop a new habit. From a biological perspective, your brain needs between one and three months to reconfigure its neuronal networks by forming new synapses, new connections between neurons.
But this interval depends on the novelty of the habit. If it’s something entirely new and unfamiliar, it will take longer. If we need to use skills we’ve never used before, once again, it will take longer.
And when it comes to healthy habits, we all know how difficult it is to leave aside the juicy cheeseburger and go for a fresh salad; or stick to your exercise program even though you feel exhausted from work.
One of the reasons why we often find it challenging to adopt healthy habits is that we fail to look in perspective. We get so caught up in the discomfort associated with doing something new that we forget to consider the long-term benefits.
That usually signals a profound lack of self-awareness and clarity which can lead to ‘bad’ habits and unhealthy coping mechanisms that – if not kept in check – will eventually deteriorate your physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
So, how exactly does meditation lead to healthier habits? Can this approach make it easier for us to implement and stick to a healthy lifestyle?
Meditation Prepares the Ground for Healthy Habits
Meditation is a practice through which, without too much effort, we can establish a deeper connection with ourselves, come to terms with the least pleasant aspects of our reality, and achieve a sense of balance that will radiate positivity into our lives.
The positive impact this ancient practice can have on our health and well-being has repeatedly been confirmed by practitioners, researchers, and mental health professionals from all over the world.
For example, studies indicate that short-term Pranayama and meditation practice can have beneficial effects on cardiovascular functions and respiratory parameters.
Furthermore, research also suggests that practices such as yoga or meditation can be successfully used as stress reduction and stress management strategies.
In broad lines, most experts agree that meditative practices have a beneficial effect on our health and well-being.
But is there a link between meditation and healthy habits?
To answer this question, we must gain a better understanding of how meditation impacts the brain.
As Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program states, “Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day.”
That is one of the mysteries that researchers have struggled to solve for decades – Are the benefits of meditation a result of actual changes that occur in various brain regions or is it just a placebo?
After conducting a study, she concluded that “changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”
In other words, meditation does have the potential to reshape and rewire our brain, which opens the door to endless possibilities.
If we were to look closer at the specific changes that occur in the brain as a result of meditative practices, current research suggests that:
- Practicing meditation for extended periods increases the grey matter density in various parts of the brain.
- Even short-term practice can produce significant changes in the white matter of the anterior cingulate cortex – part of the brain involved in self-regulation.
- But the most important changes that occur in the brain as a result of meditation are in the hippocampus, the center of emotional regulation and response control.
In a nutshell, by increasing grey and white matter volumes in different parts of the brain and by facilitating cerebral restructuring, meditation practically prepares the ground for healthy habits.
Meditation Itself is a Healthy Habit
So far, we’ve looked at how meditation practices pave the way for new, healthy habits. Based on current research, it’s clear as day that this new approach has the potential to help us cultivate and develop a set of healthy habits that will dramatically improve our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
But did you know that meditation itself is a healthy habit?
We label as “healthy habit” any action that leads to favorable results for our overall sense of health and well-being. And since experts have repeatedly shown how meditation leads to improved physical, emotional, and mental health, there’s no doubt this practice should be among your daily habits.
Furthermore, by bringing clarity and serenity into our lives, meditation sets the foundation for a whole new mindset; one in which concepts like health and well-being are interpreted holistically.
Through meditation, we enlighten ourselves and gain a different perspective on why we do the things we do. In other words, we become aware of the consequences that derive from even the smallest, most insignificant habits.
The keys to cultivating healthy habits are self-awareness and self-care. And meditation is what will get you there.