31st January 2019
Our lives are busier than ever. Even when we are relaxing of an evening, the chances are we are watching TV or mindlessly scrolling through social media on our phones. Whilst this may be our way of unwinding, we are being constantly exposed to stimuli which can leave us feeling overloaded with information and noise throughout all our waking day. Increasingly, people are turning to meditation and here’s why.
Meditation is defined as a ‘set of techniques that are intended to encourage a heightened state of awareness and focused attention’. It has been practised all over the world in many different cultures for thousands of years, with religious and spiritual roots. However recently, meditation has become more popular, and often associated with overall well-being.
Meditation can take many different forms but these will typically fall into two main categories:
Just like any other skill, meditation is one which needs to be practiced. As a beginner, you are likely to be setting out with good intentions – you get in a comfortable position, start focusing on your breath in, out, in, out and then suddenly before you know it, your mind is wandering to what you are going to make for dinner that night. The key to mediation is to keep bringing your focus back to your breath. It may feel like your mind will always wander off, but in time and with consistent practice, the mind catches on and it becomes harder to pull us away.
A huge amount of research has been conducted into meditation and the benefits that it can bring to those who practice it regularly. Both physiological and psychological benefits have been found including:
Long-term stress can have a dramatic impact on our physical and mental health. When we are stressed, our bodies produce more of the stress hormone, cortisol, as part of the ‘fight or flight’ response. This response has evolved to protect humans from life-threatening situations, but both reactions involve a physical release that helps dispel the build up of cortisol. If there isn’t a physical release, the cortisol builds up and can have a negative impact on our health.
Countless studies has been carried out that has found that meditation can reduce levels of stress. When you breathe deeply, the Vagus nerve is engaged which slows your heart rate, lowers blood pressure and decreases the level of cortisol.
Furthermore, by having a heightened awareness of our emotions through meditation, we improve our ability to handle situations and to stay clear and focused throughout.
Research has also shown that meditation can help to reduce the symptoms of stress related disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome or post-traumatic stress disorder.
We’ve all been there. As soon as the lights are out, our minds go into overtime and we are kept awake for hours thinking about anything and everything. However for some people, this isn’t an occasional occurrence but can happen most nights, wreaking havoc on our physical and emotional health.
A study looked into the impact that mediation can have on sleep, by randomly assigning participants to one of two groups. One group practiced mindfulness mediation, whilst the other did not. It was found that those who were regularly meditating fell asleep quicker and slept for longer than participants in the group who did not mediate. This can be attributed to the fact that meditation can help release tension and create a sense of calm, meaning the body is in a more relaxed state before bed. Meditation can also help to control your thoughts, so when your mind is racing, you can redirect these thoughts elsewhere.
Are you ever in the middle of a task, get interrupted by a phone call and then really struggle to get back into what you were previously doing? Research has found that as little as 10 minutes of meditation a day can help improve mental focus and concentration.
When meditating, your thoughts often wander off and need to be pulled back to focus on your breath. Every time this happens, you are strengthening your brain’s neural circuitry for focus so by meditating regularly, we are able to better ‘bounce back’ from distractions and pull our mind back into the task at hand.
Everyone experiences some form of anxiousness in their life, whether that is before doing an important presentation at work, walking up the aisle or watching their football team in a penalty shootout. For some though, anxiousness can become much more than this. Generalised anxiety disorder is when these feelings of anxiety do not diminish, and levels of anxiety becoming completely debilitating, all-consuming and can prevent an individual going about their daily life.
Anxiety is a cognitive state that is linked to an individual’s inability to regulate their emotional response to perceived threats. Through mindfulness meditation, a person’s cognitive ability to regulate their emotions is strengthened, thus reducing levels of anxiety.
When we are in a bad mood, or have had a stressful day, partners often bear the brunt of our frustrations. When this happens regularly, emotional distance can begin to form in a relationship. As meditation helping to reduce stress levels, regulate moods and bring about an increase in feelings of empathy, the likelihood of taking it out on those closest to you is greatly reduced. This drastically can improve your relationships with others.