Meditation is something we too-often assign only to ponytailed hippies, withered old swamis and The Dalai Lama. Sitting around on a rock cross-legged, chanting and waiting for enlightenment isn't for everyone - but this ancient art is so much more than that. Meditation is something everyone can try, and the list of benefits makes it such a high-reward exercise that you can't afford not to give it a shot. For starters...
It takes almost no time
Have you got literally five minutes? That's all it takes. We imagine meditation as taking hours and hours of stillness, but five minutes is all it takes to see a real change in our lives. Whether you spend that five minutes counting breaths crosslegged on your bed, or jogging in 'the zone', or even just going about your daily tasks with a focus on the present, you will be practicing meditation and bringing yourself into the moment. Just doing this once a day will start to show the benefits described below, and if you choose to start increasing the time, great. If not, that's still great.
It cuts stress
Studies from 2011 showed that meditating for only 12.5 minutes every day for 8 weeks increased US Marines' resistance to stress, and one from Harvard showed that 8 weeks of meditation actually caused the centres of the brain responsible for stress, anxiety and irritability to physically shrink while the frontal cortex, responsible for focus, compassion and wellbeing, physically grew.
It acts as a mental workout
We run, go to the gym and work up a sweat in workout classes to keep our bodies healthy, durable and strong, but what do we do for our brains? Meditation increases our ability to focus enormously, reducing distracted thoughts and scatterbrain-syndrome, and keeps us grounded in the present. It reduces the power of negative thoughts and emotions to control us, and helps get us back to us. In short, it's a strength workout for your brain.
It increases compassion
"Compassion meditation" is exactly what it says on the tin. Pre-school kids who tried it were more likely to give their stickers away to others, and adults who use it laugh more, socialise more readily, and use the word 'I' less. We could all do with being a little more personable, and I don't think anyone would turn down the chance to become a happier, friendlier person.
The list of health benefits is cartoonishly long
Regular meditation reduced the blood pressure of between 40% and 60% of high blood pressure patients in a Massachusetts General Hospital study, and other studies have shown how it reduces depression, fights chronic pain, prevents stress-related disorders, promotes heart health and even helps prevent age-related brain illnesses like Altzheimer's and dementia.
It builds mindfulness
This is the big one. Mindfulness, simply put, is the ability to be aware of your thoughts and feelings without being controlled by them. It is the difference between following a craving all the way to the bottom of an ice cream tub, and realising that chasing that urge is not something you should do. It's the difference between descending into road rage when someone cuts you off on the road and accepting the situation calmly.
Mindfulness makes our happiness less dependent on unstable outside factors and helps put the world into perspective. It means we are less likely to get caught up in emotional storms that lead to conflict, damage and heartbreak. The ability to be aware of our wants, needs and thoughts without being immersed in them means we can be free from our inner monkey, and become the collected, unruffled paragon of cool, zen control we've always wanted to be.
For five minutes a day, that sounds like a good deal to me.