If you’ve ever shared that you are stressed, it’s highly likely that someone has asked you if you meditate. Meditation is a go-to tool around the world for stress management, mindfulness practises and as a reprieve for the mind. If you have been curious and are looking to dip your toes in, keep reading for a high-level overview, as well as some excellent resources to get you started.
What is stress?
It’s our fight or flight instinct, something that many doctors relate to the release of cortisol and adrenaline hormones in the body that happens when we feel in danger. They increase our heart rate, blood pressure and energy supplies, helping us escape and flee from dangerous situations. Back in the day, this used to be life-threatening attacks from animals and such. Nowadays many of these threats take the forms of our overflowing Inbox or our overwhelming and innumerable responsibilities. And they are ever-present. They don’t go away even on the weekend.
It’s not to say that all stress is bad. Doctors seem to agree that some stress is good for us to get things done. The celebrated psychologist and holocaust survivor, Dr Viktor Frankl wrote:
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.”
Since COVID there’s been a lot of talk about building our resilience to stress. What does this mean? Well, there will always be traffic and deadlines and people who ask a lot of us. The idea here is that actually, the only thing we control is our response to the stressful item. That there’s a space in between the stressor, and in that space is our response. How will we react to it?
So how do we change our response to stress so that it’s more enjoyable for us? We all know people who seem to shake off annoying things and always seem to come up smiling. They seem to be enjoying life more than we are. How do they do it?
One of our favourite ways is meditation. Don’t get overwhelmed by the word – oh no here’s another stress you may say: I just can’t meditate, it’s just not my thing. Well read on and we’ll explain why it actually might be for you, but you just might be trying too hard.
How did meditation get so big?
The oldest record of Meditation comes from the Rishis, the wise men of India over 5,000 years ago. The Buddha revived the tradition of meditation as a way for people to wake up and see clearly what their life is, and be happy with it. Meditation has also been recorded in ancient China with Lao-Tzu and Dosho in Japan.
In the West, meditation apparently started in the 1700s and became more widely accepted in the 1960s, mainly due to efforts of people like Deepak Chopra and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi via the Transcendental Meditation movement. They managed to scientifically prove the effectiveness of meditation on our brains thorough evaluation by a number of scientific journals.
Science has proven that meditation activates our parasympathetic nervous system the rest-and-digest mechanism that calms us down as opposed to our fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system. By slowing down our breath, especially lengthening our exhale, we are signalling to our bodies that we are safe and out of danger.
What does meditation actually do?
Meditation can take many forms. You just need to find the one that works for you. As Dr Satguru recently posted on Instagram, meditation can be a form of looking inside ourselves. All of us are actually very wise and know a lot, but often get so busy inside our minds with too many thoughts going on. These often stop us from tapping into the amazing people we are and from making good decisions.
Meditation lets us slow down and ironically, take a break from what’s in our heads. At the same time, it’s a fast-track to a more productive life! Meditation has many benefits on our mind, body and overall health from lowering blood pressure, pain and negative emotions to improving our sleep and memory.
The many benefits on our body stem from lower stress, anxiety and depression, which wreak havoc. Meditation lowers our blood pressure and risk of heart disease and strokes by slowing down our heart rate. It lowers inflammation, raising our immunity and reducing skin disorders. It improves our respiration system and conditions like asthma. It balances hormones and the endocrine system, helping us sleep better and can sort out reproductive disorders such as irregular periods and sperm production. Meditation stimulates digestion by increasing saliva and enzyme production.
Dr Sara Lazar of Harvard University has found that meditation actually physically alters parts of our brains through studies where she used MRIs to measure the impact of meditation. Meditation stimulates our pre-frontal cortex to thicken and have more activity. This area of the brain dictates complex behaviour, planning, focus and organization. Dr Lazar’s research team have also found that meditation can slow the shrinking of our brains which usually happens as we age.
Sound good? Meditation also helps us to feel happier. Plain and simple. This is measured by the thinning of the amygdala, where we feel emotions, anxiety and stress. Just remember that. But also remember if you meditate today, your stress and anxiety build up tomorrow, so you’ll need to do it again, and again.
How can I start meditating?
For now, just sit for 5 mins. Set a timer. Close your eyes and focus on the breath going in and out of your nostrils. Place a hand under your nose and just notice the warmth and coolness of your breath. That’s it. 5 mins. You can do that. Sit in a comfy chair, not on a bed, and no need to be Buddha-like cross-legged on the floor either. Be comfortable and make sure you have back support. Sit somewhere quiet, at home before others wake up or after they’re in bed, in your parked car, or on a park bench. Do it once. If you like it, do it another day this week. Start small and simple.
> Calm – named the 2017 iPhone app of the year by Apple, Calm promises to help users sleep better, boost confidence and reduce stress and anxiety, all with the help of guided meditations, soothing music, and bedtime stories.
> Headspace – be kind to your mind with just a few minutes a day. Research has shown that using Headspace has helped to improved focus, attention, and decision making, as well as improving moods.
> Waking Up with Sam Harris – refreshingly simple that breaks down how to meditate for the active mind with an introductory course, coupled with a collection of lessons going deeper into the mind, emotions and so much more.
> And here are 11 apps we’ve tried and tested for general wellbeing.
> Niki Gomez YouTube channel – join Niki as she breaks down different breathing techniques and mini-meditations.
> Headspace on Netflix – A mini-series with Buddhist monk and bestselling author Andy Puddicombe who leads the way with personal stories and meditation tips.
Let us know how you get on and with any questions reach out on social media @love_in_the_time_of_
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels
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