When it comes to the promotion of overall health and wellbeing, meditation is often part of the equation these days as more and more health professionals come to acknowledge its benefits.
As we look to make daily improvements to our lives, we spend a great deal of time and money looking after our physical health. The early focus is often on eating healthily and exercising regularly. However, great strides have been made with yoga too now as people slowly come round to its benefits.
Meditation, though, tends to be quite a low priority – but that’s starting to change. Our mental and emotional health can often take a backseat but more and more people are realising that meditation is what ties everything together and completes the circle of holistic wellbeing.
What is a meditation?
Meditation has been practised for thousands of years in cultures all over the world.
In practically every major religion, including Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity, meditative practices are used to encourage a heightened state of awareness and focused attention.
That said, many people practise it independently of any religious or spiritual beliefs or practices.
The greatest advantage of meditation is that it’s easy and suitable for absolutely anyone. Everyone at every stage of life can benefit from it.
It has many benefits in both the short and long term. Studies have shown that the relaxation that comes with meditation can have a very positive impact on our health in several ways:
1) Mental and emotional wellbeing
With regards to mental and emotional wellbeing, meditation is one of the easiest but also most effective ways to find balance and contentment.
This is because the body reflects the mind. It can only be truly calm when the mind is too. Luckily, meditation can help with this.
Meditation can help to dramatically reduce the severity of depression. This is because multiple studies have found that meditation stimulates the vagus nerve. This nerve (the longest in your body) connects your brain to several important organs, including the gut, heart and lungs. Increasing what is known as your vagal tone through meditation can activate the parasympathetic nervous system which in turn makes your body relax faster after stress.
People who practice meditation also note that it forges greater compassion, understanding, forgiveness and overall happiness.
It can also help to alleviate negativity and even addictions, assisting with self-acceptance, self-confidence, personal growth and an increased sense of purpose.
2) Improved sleep
Millions of people across the world experience disturbed sleep. And many of these disorders are stress-related.
One study from 2015 showed that after just six sessions of meditation, participants experienced reduced levels of fatigue, insomnia and depression.
3) Pain management
Stress and pain are often closely linked.
Meditation has been shown to increase pain tolerance, while mindfulness meditation has been used successfully in people with multiple conditions, including headaches, lower back pain, chest pain and gastrointestinal discomfort.
4) Increased immunity
Harvard Medical School found that those who practised relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation for prolonged periods had far more “disease-fighting genes”.
These genetic changes occurred within as little as two months, the study showed.
Relaxation techniques triggered the activation of the genes that fight inflammation, kill diseased cells and even protect the body from cancer.
5) Lower blood pressure
Almost a thousand studies across three decades have demonstrated that meditation can lower blood pressure. This is because it makes the body less responsive to stress hormones in a similar way to pharmaceuticals used to lower blood pressure.
6) Increased fertility
When an individual is stressed, blood flow is naturally directed towards the muscles. In the case of females, this means that less blood is reaching the uterus and ovaries and the reproductive system is not functioning optimally.
Women are much more likely to conceive when they are in a relaxed state. Therefore, meditation is being nowadays advised to encourage conception.
Similarly, for men, relaxation may also boost fertility. This is because stress has been shown to lead to a decreased sperm count.
7) Improved digestion
When the body is tense and anxious, the digestive system is one of the most affected. Stress can cause inflammation, acid reflux, ulcers and occasionally allergies.
As it calms the mind and body, meditation enhances the digestive system’s efficiency.
How do you meditate?
Meditation is a fairly straightforward process but some people find it difficult to start with. The key is to relax and dive into the process, which is broadly as follows:
- Find a place to sit that is away from distractions and is quiet.
- If you’re a beginner, set yourself a short limit of just five or 10 minutes.
- Choose a position that is comfortable and that you can stay in for a while. This can be in a chair with your feet on the floor, sitting cross-legged or kneeling.
- Feel your breathing. Note the sensation as it goes in and out.
- Try to be disciplined. If your mind inevitably wanders, return your focus your breathing. Importantly, try not to be hard on yourself if you keep getting lost in your thoughts.
- Finally, when you’re ready (or you’ve reached your limit), gently lift your gaze, take a moment and listen to the sounds in the environment. Think about how your body feels now, as well as your thoughts and emotions.
How much meditating do I need to do to reap the benefits?
Research shows that just five minutes of meditation daily is enough to reap substantial benefits: a cleared mind, improved mood, boosted brain function, reduced stress and a healthier metabolism.
The key is making meditation a priority. Perhaps get up just a little earlier each day and sit quietly before your day begins. Dedicate this time, where you can be in your own space, to yourself – whether at home or in nature.
It’s normal that some days you won’t have much time. Some days your mind may wander more than others. However, the busier we are, the more we should make time for these moments of stillness and peace.
Treatment at The Place Retreats
Meditation, as well as Kundalini Yoga, is a key part of treatments at The Place Retreats. We believe that a personalised combination of psychotherapy, therapeutic therapies and complementary medicine can all help to break our most destructive patterns of thinking and behaviour.