After some huge changes in my life (moving abroad, studies etc.) and some technical issues, I’m finally back with more about Meditation practice. I’ve been feeling extremely stressed the past few months so I decided to write about the Physical and Mental benefits of Meditation. I’d like to focus on why Meditation can help you with stress and what is going on in our body.
“The way to do is to be.“
Meditation is the practice of tuning into your inner self
- Meditation practice: the practice helps the mind to develop the skills and strength to manage problems relating to our own thought processes. Most of the stress and anxiety that we experience is created by our own minds and is related to what we think of ourselves and our relationship to the world around us.
- Meditation helps still internal chatter and false self-perceptions – cutting through misleading self-perceptions is one of the most important benefits of mindfulness. According to best-selling author, Sam Harris, the incessant noise from thought conversations in your head interferes with your ability to perceive reality as it is.
- Mental distortion and false beliefs are one of the biggest causes of emotional stress – the resulting unhappiness leads to frustration and depression. Meditation is one of the most effective tools to avoid this happening by developing mindfulness.
- According to research, this form of rest asnd peace for the mind helps to prevent and fight against certain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).
- Mindfulness and meditation are now widely accepted practices in Western culture – in the past fifty years or so, meditation practice has entered western culture and now finds acceptance all over the world.
- Meditation is a potent tool for releasing repressed emotions. As a tool for mindfulness, it has the potential to release resentment and anger associated with past memories. Constant thought conversations tend to be self-perpetuating and you find yourself dwelling yet again on all the reasons that made you unhappy. Thus, the toxic thought processes continue to taint our moments of happiness.
What meditation does with stress?
Meditation trains the mind, in particular the attention, to live in the present moment. Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not only a conscious meditation practice. It can be said that you are meditating or mindful when you are gardening, drawing, painting, playing with your pet, dancing, singing or listening to music.
In effect, any activity that helps you to live fully in the present moment is constitute meditation. There are several supportive strategies that help create a conducive environment for awakening our true nature.
In this blogpost, I’ll explain the different types of meditation, their associated benefits and in the next few posts will also discuss different mindfulness therapies, including MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy) and MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction).
The first and most important step is to clear up some myths and preconceived notions regarding meditation.
Mindfulness Meditation at its Core
‘Surrender to what is. Let go of what was.’
Once you are able to observe thoughts neutrally, without judging or acting on them, you will gain access to the quiet, dynamic space that lies within. In this still state, you will learn to let go of limiting beliefs and negative thoughts about yourself. In other words, regular practice of mindfulness meditation helps to reprogram your mind and dissolve old, persistent patterns of thinking.
Meditation helps to alter our perceptions, to enable us to see and accept reality as it is. In fact, there are special meditation techniques that help to release toxic emotions from the past, to enable us to move forward. For most of us, the emotional association of one thought triggers the next thought. During times of stress, these thoughts snowball and thus overwhelm us.
The problem is that we tend to live most of our lives in our heads and are led by thoughts alone. Stressful living, bills to pay, children to feed and educate, and buying a home, etc. leave no time to allow the mind to rest, and replenish itself.
Meditation helps the mind to tune into a frequency that is either long-forgotten or perhaps as yet undiscovered. In effect, most of have forgotten the art of true relaxation.
Meditation essentially helps to enrich our lives by helping us to live more fully in the present moment. This could be playing with your children, preparing a presentation for the office or cycling down to the supermarket. The effects of meditation filter into our daily lives after we have completed our meditation practice. We will carry a residue of the restful awareness or stillness with us into our daily activities.
Here are some simple but useful guidelines that help us to learn meditation:
- Do not have high expectations of your meditation experience. We often tend to entertain preconceived notions about what we should expect. Sometimes, the mind could be too agitated and active to settle down. At other times, you may notice that the mind settles down very quickly – just go with the flow.
- Remember to go easy on yourself. Meditation is not about getting the technique right – it is about allowing your mind to find its truth. Let go of rigidity, preconceived notions or what you ‘should’ feel. Just be.
- There are several different types of meditation techniques available. Choose one that suits you the best. Some examples include mantra meditation, sound meditation, breathing and visualisation meditation and so on. Avoid practising techniques that do not help you to attain inner silence.
- Remember to create the right inner environment by avoiding external distractions. Switch off your mobile phone and request that your colleagues do not interrupt you for ten minutes.
The main concept is to avoid thinking about your next activity, errand or job whilst you meditate. If you focus your mind on the hour or day ahead of you, it will be unable to become silent.
As you continue to practise meditation, you will gradually learn to slip into your state of restful awareness, even in a crowded lounge or a busy airport. Distractions, including noise, stress, worry, regrets, etc. will slowly cease to occupy your mind.
The Physiology of Meditation
“Life is available only in the present moment“
—Thich Nhat Hahn
Research indicates that stress has a strong link with overall health and wellbeing.
Prolonged causes anxiety, depression, panic attacks, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
We are often in an unconscious state of tension and, as a result, the body and the mind are always in a ‘fight or flight’ response state.
High levels of stress –increasingly common in a world dominated by a materially driven, cut-throat corporate culture– lead to tension in muscles, aching shoulders and back and frequent headaches. Stress results in the release of a hormone called cortisol, also known as epinephrine, which is responsible for increasing heart rate, breathing and adrenaline flow and puts you at increased risk of health problems, including heart disease.
The reduction of stress leads to the reduction of cortisol. This results in an improved immune system because the body is no longer redirecting important nutrients away from the immune system. When the body is in a state of stress response, cortisol regulates the immune system. In effect, the nervous system instructs the immune system to reduce its activity level so that energy and nutritional resources are directed towards more important bodily functions.
Unfortunately, modern-day stressors tend to be persistent and keep cortisol levels spiked for months and years on end.
As a result, the immune system eventually becomes weak and ineffective. Hence, regular meditation has the potential to reduce stress, by inducing the relaxation response, and this in turn helps to control cortisol levels in the body and thus the immune system response is improved.
Meditation is also known to help ease constriction in blood vessels thus paving the way for increased oxygen flow.
Increased oxygen and blood flow result in the following positive outcomes:
- Reduced production of toxic lactate. Lactate has been linked to an increase in the likelihood of anxiety.
- Improved energy levels because the cells are receiving a richer supply of oxygen.
- Improved muscular health
Regulated blood flow and reduced stress decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke. ‘Heart health’ as defined in a holistic manner includes emotions such as peace, love and compassion. Our breath, thoughts and feelings meet at the heart which is the most sensitive part of the body.
In fact, research studies have shown that the risk of heart attacks is significantly increased by emotional shocks, such as the sudden death of a loved one or the loss of a job.
A pioneering study conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish established that meditation accompanied by a healthy diet, exercise and stress management could actually reverse plaque found in the artery walls. (PatientProgramOverview.pdf)
Chech this pdf out!
The artery walls are damaged due to poor lifestyle choices, such as smoking, incorrect food habits, elevated stress levels, etc.
Meditation is able to restore the body to its natural, basic biorhythms.
Natural, balanced biorhythms mean that you are less likely to overeat or smoke due to your perceived stress levels.
Heart stress and recovery are influenced by neurotransmitters and hormones. Meditation is effective in balancing these important biochemicals. Regular meditation release beneficial neurotransmitters, such as oxytocin and dopamine. They reduce stress responses and promote calm reactions to stressful situations.
When you meditate and relax, the parasympathetic nervous system (the system that controls involuntary actions) controls the sympathetic nervous system (the system that we are able to control) and introduces balance. Thus, heart rate slows down, blood pressure drops, blood vessels dilate and breathing slows down. Therefore, regular meditation has the potential to improve heart health and restore overall wellbeing.
Mindfulness is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to prevent depression in people who have had three or more bouts of depression in the past.
That’s it for today! But, if you want to read more about the topic of Mindfulness, you can find it here. In my next post, I’ll share more about meditation therapies, so follow me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook if you want to know when I post.
See you soon,