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Six ways meditation can change your life

Health and wellness expert Natasha Turner tells us how meditation changed her life, and the surprising ways it can change yours too!

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A young woman meditates

Use meditation as a way to relax your mind and bolster creativity (Photo by Getty Images).

We’ve all been there – your day is so busy and your to-do list so long that even bathroom breaks are strategically slotted in. Between running my own business, travelling, writing, speaking engagements and media tours my schedule can get pretty hectic. But I’ll let you in on my little sanity saver: meditation. And I’m not talking about hours each day. I do 10 minutes at the start of my day, and the odd class when I can fit it in.

Read on for the healthy reasons I get in my daily reflection and how it can help you too:

1. It helps you be more compassionate
While it won’t bring world peace, it may get us closer to it.

A team of researchers from Northeastern and Harvard universities examined the effects meditation would have on compassion and virtuous behaviour, and results were highly in favour of this little Zen habit. The study found that those who meditated for eight weeks were more compassionate to a test subject and more likely to assist a stranger in need.

While I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from this, it’s particularly helpful if you’re in a field where you’re coaching individuals towards better health, success and well-being (from a nutritionist to a personal trainer to a health practitioner).

2. It can help you perform better on tests
I have a few rituals that I engage in before a media interview, from taking phosphatidylcholine (it increases concentration) to vocal preparation to wearing a certain colour underwear (true story). Add to that, a few moments of meditation to boost mental clarity and focus, often when I’m sitting in the green room or immediately upon wakening.

One study, from George Mason University, found that students who followed basic meditation instructions before a lecture scored better on a quiz than their Zen-free counterparts. “The data from this study suggests that meditation may help students who might have trouble paying attention or focusing,” says Robert Youmans, the study’s lead researcher and an assistant professor of psychology.

3. It will boost your creativity
I would love to say that while I was writing my books I never experienced writer’s block, but that wouldn’t be accurate. In fact, my last two books, The Carb Sensitivity Program and The Supercharged Hormone Diet had extremely tight deadlines (two to three months from start to finish). When I had more ideas in my mind than what was coming out of the keyboard, I often took time to get silent and meditate.

Researchers from Leiden University discovered that different types of mediation can have a profound effect on two main components of creativity: divergent thinking (which gives birth to ideas) and convergent thinking (which is more solution-focused). The key is to determine what works for you and gets you in that creative space.

4. It keeps your blood pressure in check
One trick to meditating is to focus on the sound of your breathing and how it feels flowing in and out of the edge of your nostrils. I find it useful to imagine my breath washing in and out like waves on the beach. You can also pick a word or a phrase that’s soothing or meaningful to you. One patient of mine, an extremely tense 85-year-old man with high blood pressure, picked the word quiet, which I thought was a great choice. Repeat the word or phrase to yourself each time you exhale. As an added benefit – that patient eventually got off his blood pressure medication.

According to a paper published in the journal, Hypertension, meditation can help patients with high blood pressure, particularly if they don’t tolerate standard medications.

5. It relieves your aches and pains
I’ve written a lot about inflammation and how it affects not just your joints, but your weight, digestion, immune system and more. According to neuroscientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, meditation is particularly beneficial for people suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen massive breakthroughs in my patients by taking 20 minutes a day to follow a guided or solo meditation (together with nutrition and lifestyle changes). I once had a patient swear that it helped her stop drinking and restore her confidence after years of battling with alcoholism, depression and chronic pain. You know how your aches and pains seem to vanish while on vacation, sipping an iced tea and listening to the ocean? That’s meditation.

6. It increases awareness
I’ve always found that the more body aware I am, the better I can recognize shifts in my own hormones and I strongly encourage my patients to do the same. This is one of many essential lessons that meditation can teach you. During a session it’s important to practise body awareness and check for tension, especially in your jaw, scalp, forehead, shoulders, lower back and hips by consciously examining each body part. Relax the areas that feel tight, as you continue breathing. This very practice (and ideally, habit) will enable you to recognize the signs of stress during the day so you can catch yourself and keep your cortisol under wraps.

It’s no surprise that this mindfulness has been shown to empower people to better respond to physical cues of hunger and fullness as well.

Click here to find out what type of meditation is right for you.

Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here