Do you intend to try meditation but have trouble fitting it into your day?
This article will look at some of the wide-ranging physical and mental benefits of meditation. If you think you’re too busy to meditate, it could be just what your body needs.
Meditation involves learning how to direct your thoughts while training your mind to focus, allowing you to steer your thoughts more constructively. It can help you develop an understanding of yourself and improve how you relate to others.
If your mind is constantly juggling several different thoughts at once, meditation can help teach you to clear your mind, giving it a rest and reboot.
Meditation is often seen as synonymous with stress relief, and a major benefit of meditation is its influence on your fight/flight syndrome. This is your stress response, shaped to equip you to escape from a tight situation fast, or to deal with an adversary by fighting them off. This serves you well if the danger is relatively short-lived, but problems occur if your stress response continues for any length of time.
It’s easy to go through life with your fight/flight response permanently switched on. Cortisol, your stress hormone, triggers the physiological changes needed to deal with stress, but it also encourages the release of inflammatory chemicals, causing many of the adverse physical effects of long-term stress. Regular meditation decreases cortisol levels.
Meditation involves paying attention to your breath. Sleeping babies breathe deeply into their bellies, but many adults have developed the habit of constantly taking small, shallow breaths, using only the upper chest. This is how you would naturally breathe if you were faced with a stressful situation. Simply by breathing in this way your brain is told something is stressing you out, even if it isn’t. The reverse is also true – breathe deeply into your belly as you would in a relaxing situation and you can fool your brain into believing there’s nothing to be stressed about, sending a message to switch off your fight/flight response.
Not surprisingly, meditation can reduce the symptoms of stress-related conditions like IBS, high blood pressure, psoriasis, heart attack and stroke, and even seems to slow the ageing process.
But meditation is much more than simply relaxation, its benefits stretching far beyond stress relief.
Every moment of every day thousands of different stimuli reach your senses. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by these thoughts all demanding your attention, meaning you lack focus and your mind wanders away unbidden.
Meditation can act as a mental spam filter. It can improve your focus and concentration, bringing you into the now and increasing the strength of your attention span, preventing your mind from wandering off.
People who meditate have stronger alpha brain waves, a sign the brain is idling rather than multitasking.
Incredibly, meditation can produce significant changes in the structure of your brain. Examination of the brains of people who meditated revealed measurable changes in areas connected with reasoning, decision-making, rational thinking, learning and memory, emotions, sense of self and perspective.
Meditation can decrease feelings of depression, in one study benefitting mood as much as taking antidepressants. Negative thoughts typically go into overdrive when you’re depressed and anxious, meaning you can become stuck in negative self-talk. Meditation can help you recognise self-defeating or harmful thought patterns and train your brain to focus when negative thoughts intrude.
Meditation has been found to reduce the inflammation naturally occurring after stress, with research also discovering people who meditated regularly had more immune cells in their blood. One intriguing study involving people who meditated daily for eight weeks found the participants had improved antibody responses to a flu vaccine compared to non-meditators.
Meditation has been shown to significantly reduce the perception of pain, with implications for chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia.
In one study, recovering alcoholics were less likely to drink after they’d participated in a meditation programme, and meditation was found to reduce emotional and binge eating.
With all these benefits, why not give meditation a try today? It’s simple, free, and doesn’t need any special equipment – just a little time.
Choose your location, ideally somewhere where you won’t be disturbed. Aim for an alert yet relaxed posture, such as a straight-backed yet comfortable chair. Wear loose clothing so you’re comfy.
To ease you into the habit, try 5-10 minutes at first, slowly increasing the time you spend meditating as you become used to it.
Many apps are available to guide you through the meditation process.
If you’re concerned about the effects stress is having on your wellbeing, I can provide personalised nutritional and lifestyle strategies to improve your resilience to stress. Contact me to start your journey.
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