Change Your Habits with Meditation
When we think of healthy habits, sticking to a morning routine, or eating orange slices to satisfy that afternoon sugar craving may come to mind. While other practitioners in the wellness space may view meditation as a healthy habit, we offer one crucial distinction; meditation isn’t just a healthy habit. It’s one of few enablers of building healthy mental and behavioral habits.
“The more we can maintain awareness of our mental habits, the more likely they can sustain our wellbeing and mental health,” David Vago, Ph.D., a Roundglass research lead and neuroscientist says. Meditation can provide you with insight, which can make identifying your own wellbeing habits just a bit easier.
Meditation Improves Sleep
Getting enough sleep has little to do with how fluffy your pillows are or the state of your linens. Your mental and emotional relationship with rest affects how well you sleep at night. Making sleep an afterthought is common, but an unhealthy habit to ignore.
Meditation can support you in reimagining this association.
In one medical report, researchers advocate for mindfulness meditation to help ease two patterns of thinking common in people experiencing insomnia — primary and secondary arousal.
- Primary arousal is your internal dialogue that prevents you from falling asleep.
- Secondary arousal is where you emphasize negative emotions because of the missed sleep. This is like feeling anxious about being tired for your busy day ahead, or a general sense of irritation and frustration, which may keep you awake for longer.
Mindfulness meditation increases awareness of how your brain and body react when you can’t sleep. It helps your mind let go of the attachment where sleep is a need, while maintaining flexibility with and practicing acceptance of the inability to get rest.
Instead of saying “I can’t sleep,” you should treat it like a temporary thought, and not a fact. You may try saying, “What can I do to help my body and mind relax so I can get some sleep tonight?”
Meditation Can Stop You From Stress Eating
Because people typically eat junk food to deal with stress or anxiety, stress eating has been linked to a higher risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic disease — all of which hurt your wellbeing and most likely cause more stress in your life.
Creating healthy eating habits away from stress responses is possible, and mindfulness meditation may help. “I learned early on that meditation was a tool to not only help recover from stressors more efficiently, but also to gain insight and awareness into my mental habits.” Dr. Vago says.
Knowing how your mind reacts to stress can also teach you to change your relationship with stress, rather than focusing on what is stressing you.
As Dr. Vago became more aware of his mental state and the physical sensations of his body under stress, he identified how to stop being reactive. “Increased awareness has allowed me to inhibit those automatic responses that are not helpful or adaptive.” In doing so, Dr. Vago learned to experience specific stressors as challenges he could grow through rather than threats.
Meditation May Help Curb Smoking
According to Frontiers in Psychiatry, many people can’t quit smoking because the intention to stop triggers brain networks associated with craving. Because these systems work off your ability to appropriately engage in thought, emotion, and behavior based on your present experience, they can be better regulated through the practice of meditation.
In one study, researchers gathered volunteers who wanted to ease their stress and improve productivity; 27 participants were smokers, and the other 33 weren’t. Individuals were randomly assigned to two weeks of meditation to cultivate mind-body training or relaxation training.
The results showed that smokers in the mind-body meditation program had increased activity in several brain areas responsible for emotional expression, mood regulation, and impulsive behavior. Scientists also found they had a decrease in cravings.
This is because the training program was focused on strengthening self-control to help people better cope with cravings and researchers write the study presents “a unique way to treat addiction.”
Meditation Can Keep You Fitness Focused
We can all relate to the temptation of hitting the snooze button instead of getting out of bed for your daily walk, yoga practice, or gym session. According to Christina Dufour, a Roundglass wellbeing and performance coach, the key to overcoming this aversion to exercise is by doing it anyway. “You have to be able to engage your willpower and move through that discomfort,” she says.
Meditation can be a helping hand here. The practice of meditation requires you to sit in silence with your thoughts for extended periods, which helps you build a higher tolerance for your discomfort. It’s like scratching an itch, breathing through flashbacks, or fighting through the urge to get up and abruptly end your sitting practice altogether.
It’s also important to remember that old habits live in the body. So, those first few moments of getting up when you said you would likely won’t feel good right away. Prepare yourself for the experience and respond with kindness and compassion when it arises.
Feeling like you’d rather not work out? Dufour recommends switching the internal dialogue of your mind. Tell yourself, “I'm feeling tired but I'm choosing consciously to do this now. I'm not going to be led by my body and its old habits because I have the awareness to see the difference between the two.”
Meditation Helps You Be More Grateful
Being grateful can transform your life. When you allow yourself to focus on everything going well, you amplify your ability to continue attracting positive experiences. Sarah Blackburn, a Roundglass meditation teacher, recommends writing down three things you're grateful for every night before you go to bed. "It's really nice to actively rejoice or be grateful for the things in that day that were positive," she says.
It can be challenging to think about things you're thankful for when in a low vibrational state. It's also important to note that humans naturally have a negativity bias stemming from our need to survive in the prehistoric era. However, you can override this bias and uplift your spirit using meditation.
"Mindfulness can help rewire these negative mental habits by helping to make us aware [of] when our mind is distorting reality," Rebecca Acabchuk, Ph.D., a Roundglass research lead, says. Over time and with practice, you learn to separate the brain's natural negativity bias from your present experience. You can train your brain to use this space to focus on the positive.
Things to Consider While Cultivating a Daily Meditation Practice
When you meditate every day, you train yourself to engage with life using intention, self-compassion, and nonattachment to outcomes, which is much easier than using sheer willpower to curb bad health habits.
If you don’t know where to start, or find it difficult to sustain a sitting practice, Dufour recommends rewarding yourself with whatever is meaningful to you every time you meditate. Because your body works off habit, you can also commit to meditating at the same time each day.
Even if you decide to focus on just one breath per day, use that to propel your practice forward, as you may continue to have experiences you won’t be able to come back from. And Dufour says this will “create the motivation necessary to continue.”
if you’re unsure how to start cultivating a practice, try this course, Demystifying Meditation, with Almeiri Santos, a Roundglass meditation teacher, to experience how building this healthy habit may elevate your life.