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The Benefits of Meditation (and How to Meditate)

Torso and lower body of a woman meditating, cross-legged, on a couch.

You may already know quite a bit about The Paleo Diet®—how it encourages us to eat in a way similar to how our non-industrialized ancestors, relying on healthy meats, fish, and eggs; fruits and veggies; nuts and seeds; herbs and spices; and healthy fats and oils. The diet also advocates that you avoid, as much as possible, refined sugars and artificial sweeteners; processed foods; grains and legumes; dairy products; and trans-fats such as vegetable oil, margarine, and shortening.

You may also know about the emphasis on exercise, to keep the body fit and strong. But a Paleo lifestyle includes more than just diet and exercise. It also includes Paleo principles such as getting outside to enjoy and be nourished by the natural world; protecting ourselves from man-made EMFs; unplugging periodically from our Wi-Fi devices; and cultivating healthy human relationships.

To that end, meditation can also be a valuable component of a balanced and healthy Paleo lifestyle.

The Physical, Mental, and Emotional Benefits of Meditation

Western science has verified many benefits of regular meditation practice. A sampling of the proven benefits of daily practice include:

  • stress relief
  • relaxation
  • enhanced vitality
  • deeper and more nourishing sleep
  • increased mental clarity
  • improved focus and concentration
  • enhanced creativity
  • expanded insight
  • equanimity and compassion

It is quite an impressive list. Another potential benefit of meditation—one that tends to be of special interest to Paleo enthusiasts—is improvements to the digestive system. The practice of meditation can improve digestive efficiency because it puts the body into the rest-and-digest mode. By calming the mind and body through meditation, unnecessary tensions are replaced by deep relaxation, which tends to improve the functioning of the body’s organ systems, including the capacity to digest our food better.

Mindful meditation has also been shown to change your brain. New research by Harvard University neuroscientist, Sara Lazar, has shown that long-term meditators have increased gray matter in several regions of the brain. Gray matter processes information in the brain and enables individuals to control movement, memory, and emotions. She found that increased gray matter in the auditory and sensory cortex, insula and sensory regions, and frontal cortex. A follow-up study found the same phenomenon in new meditators. After just eight weeks of daily meditation new gray matter was found in the left hippocampus, TPJ, and pons. This suggests meditation can help improve your memory, emotional regulation, decision-making and physical senses. [1]

Types of Meditation

There are many kinds of meditation. What they have in common is their experiential nature. This means that in order to fully understand what meditation is, you need to practice it. Eventually, partaking in meditation will begin to feel more like simply “being.”

  • Mindfulness meditation is the process of being fully present with your thoughts and emotions without judgement.
  • Transcendental meditation is silently repeating an assigned mantra.
  • Guided imagery involves the visualization of a peaceful scene evoking as many senses as possible.
  • Yoga is a series of postures and breathing exercises meant to promote flexibility, balance, and peace.

How to Meditate

  1. Sit or lay down. Find a quiet place and get into a position that is comfortable for you and you can stay in for a while. Close your eyes and relax.
    • Sitting with the spine upright is one common posture for meditation practice. However, you can meditate with the body in almost any position. Sometimes, a simple yoga pose is a wonderful opportunity for meditation.
    • The yoga pose Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall pose), for instance, has deeply therapeutic effects, one of which is to calm the nervous system and help you to sleep better. Five or 10 minutes is all it takes—right before going to bed—to harmonize your body and mind in a way that helps you to fall easily into a deep and nourishing sleep.
  2. Focus on your breath. When we pay attention to our breath, we learn how to be in the present moment. To help stay centered, count your breaths from one to 10 with each exhalation. If your mind starts to wander, don’t get frustrated and just begin again at “one”.
  3. Stay in the flow for as long as you like. Beginners should aim for just 10 minutes and work their way up. Duration, however, is not as important as frequency. If you only have time for five minutes every day, that’s okay too!

The Bottom Line

No matter what type of meditation you choose to practice, it can have many benefits for your mental and physical health. Try to incorporate more restorative practices into your daily routine for a well-rounded Paleo Lifestyle.

The Paleo Diet Team

The Paleo Diet® team consists of a group of scientists, journalists, experts, and recipe creators who stay at the forefront of nutrition science.

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