Meditation may be the hottest buzzword for everyone from Katy Perry to Russell Simmons, but the benefits of the age-old practice are anything but trendy.

Along with helping to calm anxiety and improving concentration, meditation can target specific ailments, like depression, infertility and high blood pressure, according to Food Matters.

For Peter G. Seidler, a life and executive coach currently based in Thailand, seeing what meditation can do was easily demonstrated in a series of photographs he took in 2011 as part of a project called "Contemplatives." Seidler photographed people taking part in a month-long retreat at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado; one picture when they began, and one after they'd finished.

For Seidler, meditation is basic, and not tied to a particular culture.

"It is basically sitting on the ground with good posture and training our state of being so that our mind and body can be synchronized," he tells the Huffington Post Canada. "Through the practice of meditation, we can learn to be fully alive." He notes that research on meditation at universities around the world have found benefits to many aspects of life — body, emotions, mental functioning, and relationships."

And while Seidler believes an intense retreat is an ideal place to meditate away from the bustle of daily life, he thinks there's innumerable benefits to be had meditating even 10 minutes a day.

"A daily practice is just as valuable [as a retreat], and in some cases even more so, because with a daily practice we integrate the daily insights that arise from practice into our everyday lives, which is the point anyway," Seidler says.

While Seidler didn't offer specifics as to what he believed his subjects experienced throughout their retreat, he enthusiastically lists off the potential benefits they may have reaped.

"There are various aspirations people have for their meditation practice. For one person it might be to reduce stress and better sleep. For someone else it might be to be of greater benefit to other people. For another the aspiration might be enlightenment ... Clearly, people come to meditation for many different reasons."

Take a look at these before and after pictures of participants in a 30-day meditation retreat, and see for yourself:

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  • Types Of Meditation

    There are several different kinds of meditation, and you may find that more than one of them is helpful for you. This <a href="" target="_hplink">guide from the Institute for Applied Meditation</a> outlines eight of the main methods — including mindfulness (vipassana), which comes from the Buddhist tradition; transcendal, a meditative tradition of Hinduism; and qi gong, a Taoist form that works with breath and movement.

  • Why Meditation?

    There are many reasons why meditation should be a part of your daily routine. A regular meditation practice can reduce stress, which <a href="" target="_hplink">has a host of potential health benefits</a> including easing headaches, high blood pressure, and anxiety, notes WebMD. It could also help you fall asleep and get better rest, which is very important; people with poor sleep have been shown to be at <a href="" target="_hplink">a higher risk for accidents, weight gain, and diabetes</a>, according to Harvard. And time set aside to meditate means time just for you — something we could all use more of!

  • The Science

    If you’re not convinced yet, studies have shown the benefits of meditation. Research published in 2011 showed that <a href="" target="_hplink">meditation could increase grey-matter density in areas of the brain associated with learning</a>, memory, and emotion regulation, reported the Globe and Mail. Another study published in 2012 found that meditation classes, over the course of several years, were <a href="" target="_hplink">associated with reduced cardiovascular risk for people with coronary heart disease</a>. And a five-year Harvard study is looking at <a href="" target="_hplink">how meditation may lead to changes in the brain activity</a>, and even genes, of people who are chronically stressed.

  • How To Do It

    There are many ways to meditate, which means there’s one out there for you. Some people sit while meditating, while others lie down; you can go with the method you prefer, or mix it up based on where you’re practicing. Either way, good posture helps you relax and breathe properly. You can close your eyes or keep them open, but if you prefer them open, try to keep your gaze down and unfocused. Most of all, try to find a time when you won’t be interrupted — even if that means meditating for just five minutes. Put away your phone, get off the laptop, and focus! Mindful, a publication dedicated to bringing mindfulness to everyday life, <a href="" target="_hplink">has more tips for getting started with meditation</a>.

  • Where

    The beauty of meditation is that you can do it anywhere. Obviously, it’d be great if you can do it sitting on a beach listening to the waves crash in, or in a quiet temple with an expert to guide you. But the key is actually doing it, not making sure you only meditate in the best possible environment. In your home, try to find a room where you can relax, be comfortable, and not be interrupted. However, you can also try it on the go — download an app or podcast (see some suggestions in slides 8 and 9) and make the most of your commute!

  • Is It Working?

    How do you know that all this mindfulness is doing its job? Sometimes it can be hard to tell, because it’s not as obvious as other health practices: you don’t have a cut that you can watch heal or a headache that goes away. But there are still ways to check in. Wildmild advises that you can tell that meditation is helping you if <a href="" target="_hplink">you begin to develop more concentration or start noticing things like your breathing</a> or how particular parts of your body feel while you’re meditating. You may also feel calmer overall and have improved posture. If you don’t feel that meditation is working for you, don’t be afraid to mix it up, as different approaches to practice work for different people.

  • Gear

    The only things you truly need to meditate are time and yourself. But there are some items that can help you get zen. Try meditating lying on <a href="" target="_hplink">an acupressure mat like a Sponk</a>, which can help with relaxation and loosening your muscles. A <a href="" target="_hplink">zabuton is a padded mat</a> that makes it more comfortable and supportive to sit on the floor while meditating, and <a href="" target="_hplink">a zafu can help you sit cross-legged</a>.

  • Apps

    There are several apps that can help you establish a meditation practice. <a href="" target="_hplink">Buddhify 2</a> (iOS) gives you several meditations of varying lengths for a variety of situations, including “Eating” and “Can’t Sleep.” <a href="" target="_hplink">Omvana</a> (iOS) lets you mix and match meditations with background sounds and music, and you can purchase new files from the app’s built-in store. And <a href="" target="_hplink">Buddhist Meditation Trainer</a> (Android) lets you work through ten levels of enlightenment with daily meditation.

  • Online

    Many meditation resources can be found online as well — even for free. Elisha Goldstein, the mental health blogger for Mindful, has a <a href="" target="_hplink">10-minute body-scan video on YouTube</a> that is a great short meditation. If you have a bit more time, try this <a href="" target="_hplink">20-minute video that focuses on breathing</a>. The Guardian <a href="" target="_hplink">ran a series of five podcasts</a> about mindfulness that looked at bringing the practice into your everyday life. And <a href="" target="_hplink">UCLA posts a new guided meditation podcast</a> every week.

  • Classes

    You can also get some help in person by attending a meditation class or workshop. Many yoga studios offer classes, some of them combining meditation and yoga. Buddhist temples may also offer sessions that are open to the general public, often for a small donation. You can also <a href="" target="_hplink">look for a local Shambhala group</a> — the organization often runs introductory meditation programs.

  • NEXT: Reasons To Love Meditation

  • It Lowers Stress -- Literally

    Research published just last month in the journal Health Psychology shows that mindfulness is not only associated with feeling less stressed, it's also linked with <a href="" target="_blank">decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol</a>.

  • It Lets Us Get To Know Our True Selves

    It lets us get to know our true selves. Mindfulness can help us see beyond those rose-colored glasses when we need to really <a href="" target="_blank">objectively analyze ourselves</a>. A study in the journal Psychological Science shows that mindfulness can help us conquer common "blind spots," which can amplify or diminish our own flaws beyond reality.

  • It Can Make Your Grades Better

    Researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that college students <a href="" target="_blank">who were trained in mindfulness</a> performed better on the verbal reasoning section of the GRE, and also experienced improvements in their working memory. "Our results suggest that cultivating mindfulness is an effective and efficient technique for improving cognitive function, with widereaching consequences," the researchers wrote in the Psychological Science study.

  • It Could Help People With Arthritis

    A 2011 study in the journal Annals of Rheumatic Disease shows that even though mindfulness training may not help to lessen pain for people with rheumatoid arthritis, it <em>could</em> help to <a href="" target="_blank">lower their stress and fatigue</a>.

  • It Changes The Brain In A Protective Way

    University of Oregon researchers found that integrative body-mind training -- which is a meditation technique -- can actually result in brain changes that may be protective against mental illness. The meditation practice was linked with <a href="" target="_blank">increased signaling connections in the brain</a>, something called axonal density, as well as increased protective tissue (myelin) around the axons in the anterior cingulate brain region.

  • It Works As The Brain's "Volume Knob"

    Ever wondered why mindfulness meditation can make you feel more focused and zen? It's because it helps the brain to have <a href="" target="_blank">better control over processing pain and emotions</a>, specifically through the control of cortical alpha rhythms (which play a role in what senses our minds are attentive to), according to a study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

  • It Makes Music Sound Better

    Mindfulness meditation improves our <a href="" target="_blank">focused engagement in music</a>, helping us to truly enjoy and experience what we're listening to, according to a study in the journal Psychology of Music.

  • It Helps Us Even When We're Not Actively Practicing It

    You don't have to actually be meditating for it to still <a href="" target="_blank">benefit your brain's emotional processing</a>. That's the finding of a study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, which shows that the amygdala brain region's response to emotional stimuli is changed by meditation, and this effect occurs even when a person isn't actively meditating.

  • It Has Four Elements That Help Us In Different Ways

    The health benefits of mindfulness can be boiled <a href="" target="_blank">down to four elements</a>, according to a Perspectives on Psychological Science study: body awareness, self-awareness, regulation of emotion and regulation of attention.

  • It Could Help Your Doctor Be Better At His/Her Job

    Doctors, listen up: Mindfulness meditation could help you <a href="" target="_blank">better care for your patients</a>. Research from the University of Rochester Medical Center shows that doctors who are trained in mindfulness meditation are less judgmental, more self-aware and better listeners when it comes to interacting with patients

  • It Makes You A Better Person

    Sure, we love all the things meditation does for us. But it could also benefit people we interact with, by <a href="" target="_blank">making us more compassionate</a>, according to a study in the journal Psychological Science. Researchers from Northeastern and Harvard universities found that meditation is linked with more virtuous, "do-good" behavior.

  • It Could Make Going Through Cancer Just A Little Less Stressful

    Research from the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine shows that <a href="" target="_blank">mindfulness coupled with art therapy</a> can successfully decrease stress symptoms among women with breast cancer. And not only that, but imaging tests show that it is actually linked with brain changes related to stress, emotions and reward.

  • It Could Help The Elderly Feel Less Lonely

    Loneliness among seniors can be dangerous, in that it's known to raise risks for a number of health conditions. But researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, found that mindfulness meditation helped to <a href="" target="_blank">decrease these feelings of loneliness</a> among the elderly, <em>and</em> boost their health by reducing the expression of genes linked with inflammation.

  • It Could Make Your Health Care Bill A Little Lower

    Not only will your health benefit from mindfulness meditation training, but your wallet might, too. Research in the American Journal of Health Promotion shows that <a href="" target="_blank">practicing Transcendental Meditation</a> is linked with lower yearly doctor costs, compared with people who don't practice the meditation technique.

  • It Comes In Handy During Cold Season

    Aside from <a href="" target="_blank">practicing good hygiene</a>, mindfulness meditation and exercise could l<a href="" target="_blank">essen the nasty effects of colds</a>. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Health found that people who engage in the practices miss fewer days of work from acute respiratory infections, and also experience a shortened duration and severity of symptoms.

  • It Lowers Depression Risk Among Pregnant Women

    As many as one in five pregnant women will experience depression, but those who are at <a href="" target="_blank">especially high risk for depression</a> may benefit from some mindfulness yoga. "Research on the impact of mindfulness yoga on pregnant women is limited but encouraging," study researcher Dr. Maria Muzik, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, said in a statement. "This study builds the foundation for further research on how yoga may lead to an empowered and positive feeling toward pregnancy."

  • It Also Lowers Depression Risk Among Teens

    Teaching teens how to <a href="" target="_blank">practice mindfulness through school programs</a> could help them experience less stress, anxiety and depression, according to a study from the University of Leuven.

  • It Supports Your Weight-Loss Goals

    Trying to shed a few pounds to get to a healthier weight? Mindfulness could be your best friend, according to a survey of psychologists conducted by Consumer Reports and the American Psychological Association. Mindfulness training was considered an "excellent" or "good" <a href="" target="_blank">strategy for weight loss</a> by seven out of 10 psychologists in the survey.

  • It Helps You Sleep Better

    We saved the best for last! A University of Utah study found that mindfulness training can not only help us better control our emotions and moods, but it can <em>also</em> help us sleep better at night. “People who reported higher levels of mindfulness described better control over their emotions and behaviors during the day. In addition, higher mindfulness was <a href="" target="_blank">associated with lower activation at bedtime</a>, which could have benefits for sleep quality and future ability to manage stress," study researcher Holly Rau said in a statement.

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