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Benefits of Meditation Feature
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5 Steps Closer to Calm: The Benefits of Meditation

Meditation. The health buzz words of recent years. And even though you may not think it is ‘your thing’, do you know what it really is? More importantly, are you aware of the life-changing benefits of meditation to your health and well-being this practice can bring?

Meditation changed my life. Initially, I didn’t even know I was doing it. I was then intrigued by it, so I began to research, practice it and then having seen the health and happiness benefits of meditation, I now teach it.

MeditateLet’s start with a simple explanation. Meditation is a tool to simply reset your mind, like the on/off switch of your computer when it overheats or gets stuck in blue screen mode, just before it crashes. Meditation is often used as a way to trigger mindfulness, to bring yourself around to being aware of the present moment, and therefore, an empowering tool to self-manage any stress or anxiety.

With the sound of Cher singing in my head, ‘If I could turn back time,’ I would teach myself to meditate. In those moments of overwhelm, as the pots on the stove were boiling over, a small child was crying around one leg and another at the door, the dog being sick on the floor, a hungry husband returning from work as I saw my work phone flash up with an important, unpleasant call that I just had to take, meditation would have served me well.

In those moments of frustration and anger, when a colleague cut me down unnecessarily in a big meeting, when I felt like crying, meditation would have been my soothing, calming pill.  When my husband pointedly asked me why I didn’t take out the recycling, as I stood there carrying my laptop bag, handbag, lunch cooler bag, kids’ snack bags, gym bags with a sleeping child on my shoulder, meditation would have been my route to seeing the situation from a different perspective.

In those times, I know for sure, meditation would have changed my reactions of screaming and shouting, or crying in the toilets alone or swearing profanities that never should be spoken in front of children, to one of a calmer and more collected response.

The Need for Peace of Mind

My first experience of meditation came when I received the call you never want to receive about a parent: ‘It’s time; we have an end of life situation.’ It took my stubborn mum seven days to die from pneumonia after 10 years of Alzheimer’s destroying her soul. In those seven days, the mixture of emotions was overwhelming, the guilt, the relief, the guilt again, the sadness, the loss, grief, relief and back to guilt again.

I found myself lying on the floor of the conservatory in the home I grew up in, looking up at the trees and sky and simply breathing; breathing and noticing the wind and letting my thoughts and fears float away with the leaves. I would lie there and feel my heart beat, knowing it was breaking, giving it permission to and finding compassion for myself within the stillness.

Shortly after she died, a friend introduced me to a YouTube series – the 30 Day Meditation Challenge by JBittersweet and then I was hooked. Even if I couldn’t do the meditation every day, I found I looked forward to the days I could and felt the benefits of meditation immediately.

6 months later when my marriage, family, life fell apart and left me with a diagnosis of clinical depression, I knew in my gut the key to finding a way to function was to commit to a daily meditation practice. Twenty-two months on, I am proud and can say I healed myself back to health and happiness with meditation and mindfulness as fundamental factors in that process.

Meditation goes beyond my story of a mechanism to cope with and overcome overwhelm, grief, loss, anxiety and depression; it can be used to improve many areas of your life, your relationships, your work, your creativity and the health of your entire body.

The benefits of meditation regularly include:

  • Prevent or reduce cognitive decline by reversing the process of thinning of the Prefontal Cortex, something which happens as you age.
  • Promote creativity and self reflection by improving the density and structure of the Posterior Cingulate Cortex.
  • Help cope with stressful emotions, by reducing the density of the area and maintaining the structure around the Amygdala.
  • Improve mental resilience by maintaining the size and the structure of our Hippocampus, the part of the brain which shapes new memories from experiences.
  • Reduce our perception of pain by strengthening the pain response as well as improving the body’s physiological response to pain.
  • Reduce inflammation in the body therefore strengthening our immune system and well being.
  • Protect against heart disease, in some cases, by reducing the inflammatory markers associated in its development.[1]
  • Lower blood pressure by helping to dilate the blood vessels, which in turn improves blood flow, which means your heart doesn’t have to pump so hard.

Group MeditationHistorically thought of as a practice for monks high amongst the Himalayas or a practice that would perhaps be ridiculed if made public, meditation is now popping up everywhere. Even Axel Rod of Sky Atlantic ‘Billions’ fame has his own state of the art ‘zen’ room to get away from the rush, adrenalin and excitement of the stocks and shares market. But you don’t have to have a meditation room or cushion, billions of dollars or belong to a temple to meditate.

As with all my articles, I like to focus on a sense of creativity and spirituality and by bringing both in to my meditation practice, I have found a way to reset and reboot in this busy 24/7 lifestyle I find myself in. By being creative, you can then find your own way to connect with yourself, your spirit.

So here are my top 5 tips to finding your own way to meditate and reap the numerous benefits of meditation, without feeling a sense of ridicule. And remember, meditation is like going to the gym, you are working out your biggest muscle—the brain—and if it hasn’t been used in this way before, start small and build up, be consistent and the results and rewards will be huge!

1. Why Meditate?

Starting with why you do or want to do something is a good place to start. Why are you starting a meditation practice and what do you want the result to be in terms of feelings and benefits? Set your intention as such.

2. Turn Off and Tune Out

As you are about to press your own switch off button, do the same for all the technical devices you have in your presence. This is a time for no distractions. If turning your phone off causes too much stress, then move in to a different room or go outside and leave the digital world behind. You may find you can meditate in a noisy room, but most need to find an environment of calm with no disruptions.

3. Time & Commitment

Determine a length of meditation time that is suitable for you and then plan it into your weekly schedule and commit to it. Try starting with 2 minutes, once a day or every other day. If you were to run a marathon you wouldn’t start by running 26.3 miles straight off – you might start with one.

4. Meditation Method

There are many ways to meditate, and the art is to find the one that suits you best in that moment. You can sit, stand, lie or move, the choice is yours.

  • You can simply focus on your breath or your heart beat and allow thoughts to dissipate and know you can pick them up later. If you find your mind has wandered, without judgement, just return to your heart or breath.
  • You can use guided meditations from YouTube[2] or use apps such as Calm or Headspace; both have beginners’ options.
  • You can join a meditation circle, either in your locality or online.[3]

5. Notice and Experiment

  • Deadheading RosesAt the end of each practice, notice how you are feeling emotionally, spiritually and physically. Sometimes, you may feel a meditation did not work for you. That’s okay; next time either try the same again and see if you feel differently, or try a different method.
  • You may find some form of active relaxation more beneficial. Some of my favourites include: pegging out the washing, picking fruit off the fruit trees or deadheading roses, walking in nature and appreciating my surroundings.
  • After a period of regular meditation practices, do some reflection. What have you noticed as positive change since you began meditating?

I recently described meditation to a client as a way to not follow Alice down the dark rabbit hole, the way that some thoughts can have us caught in a pull of negative spirals in to the darkness. Allowing our mind the time to be quiet and still allows us the opportunity to change our thoughts and perceptions. By doing so, we allow ourselves to recognise that rabbits don’t wear waistcoats or carry watches, and we give ourselves time to make the right and informed decision about whether we want to jump down a rabbit hole at all!

 

[1] At a Lifestyle Medicine conference this weekend, Dr. Asseem Malhotra shared his insights of an Indian doctor who has been treating patients who refused medical treatment or surgery with meditation practices; these patients were showing 20% reduction in signs of the heart disease. Trials and research continue to prove this further.

[2] Links to 30 Day Meditation Challenge that I first used.

My recorded mindful minute is below.

[3] I am starting meditation circles online in October. Watch this space and follow me on Instagram @heal_yourself_happy for updated times and dates.

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