Well Im sure you’ve all heard of meditation and can picture in your head some Tibetan monk dressed in an orange robe meditating in a temple at the top of the Himalayas. Well before I understood the benefits of meditation thats exactly what I thought.
To give you a brief history lesson meditation is documented in India as far back as 5000BC as part of the Hindu religion. It was then later developed by the Taoist Chinese and the Buddhist Indians.
This then developed further and was taken up by Roman philosophers. As the Silk Road developed so did the transmission of meditation. By the 18th century it was well established in many countries and soon became a daily ritual amongst certain religions.
Nowadays mediation has seen a resurgence thanks to social media and acknowledgement by famous people such as Steve Jobs who travelled to India to learn the teachings of Zen Buddhism.
There have been more than a thousand studies on meditation since the 1970’s so as you can see it is well practiced and well researched.
There are various types of meditation which are practiced by different religions but ultimately they all hope to achieve the same goal and that is inner peace.
So what actually is meditation?
You can see meditation as the training of the mind. Meditation is a skill which requires practice upon practice and the key is to have consistency throughout your practice. Therefore the best place to start is with the use of an app. I know not everyone owns a smart phone these days but its safe to say most of us do. There are many applications around developed for the purpose of meditation. These include such titles as Headspace, Inscape, Calm, Buddify, Stop Think & Breathe. Now most of these include a number of free sessions which you can use to practice on and decide which if any your willing to subscribe to. I myself just use numerous different sessions of free ones from varying applications.
So before we get into how to meditate I’m sure you want to know the benefits.
Well there are many and numerous have been backed by medical studies. Here is a list of the likely benefits.
1. REDUCES STRESS- Now this is an area from which we all suffer and its one of the main reasons why people take up meditation. As covered in previous articles stress causes an increase in the hormone cortisol and as such puts our nervous system into a sympathetic state. Now this fight or flight state is only needed at certain times by the body. The preferred relaxation mode for the body is the parasympathetic state. It has been shown by measuring heart rate variability that meditating pushes you into the parasympathetic state and thus reduces stress and cortisol levels.
2. DECREASED BLOOD PRESSURE- In a very similar manner to as described above when the body moves into a parasympathetic state the heart slows down and such our blood pressure reduces. This is beneficial to body as it reduces strain on the heart.
3. IMPROVED SLEEP- Im sure all of us at some point have suffered with insomnia. Studies have shown that those who meditate fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer.
4. REDUCED PAIN- Studies have shown that those who meditate have less sensitivity to pain in particular with chronic or intermittent pain.
5. CONTROLS ANXIETY- When we reduce our stress we reduce our anxiety
6. PROMOTES EMOTIONAL WELLBEING- Studies have shown that meditation decreases depression. When we are in a stressed state our body produces inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. These can affect our mood and lead to depression. Meditation may reduce these inflammatory chemicals and thus reduce stress and depression.
7. INCREASED POSITIVITY AND FOCUS- By meditating we gain the ability to stop our mind from wandering and thus ultimately assist us in solving problems. This in turn increases our positivity to solve issues within our lives.
8. MAKES US MORE MINDFUL- Meditation teaches us to focus our attention on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting our feelings thoughts and bodily sensations. This has been shown to help with our relationships with our partners and children.
There are numerous other listed benefits but these seem to be the main ones. So as you can see there is no reason why you wouldn't want to actually give it a go.
Now the easiest type of meditation to start with is called “Concentration Meditation”
When using one of the above applications the sessions usually begins with some soft background music. The speaker will always have a soft mellow welcoming voice. They will get you to sit upright with your hands on your knees and feet flat on the floor. They will then get you to concentrate on a single point. This is usually your breathing. They will then get you to practice your breathing technique and sometimes get you to count your breaths. The main focus is that you concentrate on the present. Not something you did that day or something you need to do tomorrow. They may then get you to do a body check where you think about the parts of your body which usually entails a head to toe body check. All the while the voice is telling you to release the tension in these parts of the body. They also may ask you to think of a ‘Mantra’ This is usually a saying unique to you but can be something as simple as one word. By saying this word over and over your mind just focuses on the here and now. There also may be a phase where you are told to think of someone in your life and wish them happiness. The reasoning behind this us that your brain releases endorphins when we give love to others. The fact we didn’t actually give anything to them doesn’t change the endorphins released from wishing the happiness. Now a beginners session may only last five minutes but as you build up the meditation becomes easier and 20 minutes will soon follow.
During my sessions I found that I didn't fall asleep but I definitely thought the time went very quickly so I must have been in some form of transcendental state. Its hard to explain until you've actually tried it. What I can positively say is afterwards I felt inner calm and rested.
So why not download one of the apps listed and give it a go. This can also be carried out with various types of breath work which I will cover in a future article.