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BY SOPHIE LEAVER
HEALTH & WELLBEING WRITER
Imagine if someone gave you a tool that you could use every day, free of charge, that you could carry with you wherever you go, that wasn’t time consuming or physically taxing, and that was scientifically proven to improve your physical and mental wellbeing. This is exactly what meditation is, and the reasons for trying it are seemingly endless.
Meditation may mean something different to each person who practises, but it is known to most as the ancient practice of transforming the mind through a deep state of calm. There are many different forms, including Buddhist meditation, zen meditation, walking meditation, and transcendental meditation. It can be practised alone, in a group, or with the help of a guide.
Meditation, though practised worldwide, can be a deeply personal process and can be adapted to suit your lifestyle and your needs. Meditation requires discipline and consistency, but a regular practice can provide an array of benefits that impact your mind, body, and daily life. Meditating for even five minutes a day can be a refreshing way to dedicate time to your own wellbeing, gain perspective, and enrich your life.
Controlled studies have even shown that meditation can lead to an increase in disease-fighting genes that can affect pain, infertility, blood pressure, and arthritis, among others. Some of the most important benefits of meditation include:
Practitioners have long claimed that meditation provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day. By practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the grey matter of the brain, which affects our memory, concentration, mental clarity, and capacity to process information. Studies have shown that meditating has a profound effect on our ‘working memory’, which is the short-term memory system we tap into for managing information, controlling emotions, and problem solving.
Recent studies have shown that a daily meditation practice designed to relax the body leads to significantly reduced blood pressure. Meditation can help increase the body’s production of nitric oxide, which expands blood cells, increasing the size of channels that blood can flow through, lowering the pressure required to pump it through the body.
Research suggests that meditation not only reduces stress and anxiety following a stressful or traumatic situation, but that practicing it can actually help avoid stress when it arises. Meditating encourages inner reflection, and allows us to observe how our bodies and minds react to the outside world. This self-awareness allows us greater control of our emotions and reactions. What’s more, entering a state of deep relaxation changes how the stress-related emotion centres in the brain are activated. Stress can be extremely toxic for the mind and body, so giving your body the tools to fight it can be profoundly beneficial.
Research has shown that meditation can, over time, improve our cardiac response to stress, allow for an increased exercise capacity and a lower likelihood of heart problems such as infarction or ischemia. Your cardiovascular system benefits from any practice that reduces stress, and meditation has even been linked on decreasing one’s likelihood of suffering heart attacks or stroke.
Meditation is one of the most important elements of the ancient practice of yoga. Following a daily practice allows spiritual growth, as it encourages the individual mind to connect to an infinite consciousness. The focus is on looking inward, and slowly building a sense of self-awareness or self-realisation. These elements are not strictly religious, but allow for a sense of spirituality which is different for each person who practises.
Meditation has long been used to help combat depression, anxiety and fatigue. During meditation, we learn to focus on and appreciate smaller details, but often also cultivate feelings of compassion and love. From a scientific point of view, it has been found that people who meditate have more electrical activity in the brain’s left prefrontal cortex, an area associated with positive moods.
Meditating daily can be as important for the brain as exercising is for the body.
It’s important to realise that meditation alone isn’t a magic button to health, happiness or peace. But integrating a few minutes a day of time dedicated to nurturing your mind and body, can have profound and long-lasting effects. Going to classes, researching different styles or techniques, and playing around with where and when you practice is a good way to find a way to make meditation suit you and your needs. With a little discipline and dedication, meditation can be one of the most relaxing, rewarding and enjoyable few minutes of your day.