Meditation is something I had attempted to implement many times in the past but never really succeeded. My resistance mostly came from my perception that meditation was “silly” and that I just “wasn’t the meditative type”. I had trouble sitting still, my thoughts consistently wandered and I ultimately became bored with the practice. But earlier this year, I sat down and seriously gave it the good ol’ one-two and something happened. I started to appreciate it. This time around, I didn’t over think it as I let my thoughts drift in and out and placed my concentration on my breath and the rise and fall of my belly. I started to understand that it’s okay for the mind to wander. In fact, it’s completely normal and is the one thing I think discourages others from trying it. Observing the thought, acknowledging it, and then letting it go. After a month of nightly meditation sessions, I felt less anxious, more relaxed, and my head felt clearer. I also started to like myself.
For many people, effectively managing stress is the missing link on their path to optimal health. It doesn’t matter if you’re eating the cleanest and most nutrient dense foods, taking supportive supplements and exercising regularly. Unmanaged stress will sabotage your best efforts to heal and practicing meditation can be a helpful tool to help manage your stress. Let’s take a moment to talk about stress and the types we all experience from time to time.
This type of stress is our survival mechanism. Stress hormones are released in order for your mind and body deal with the current situation. For example, you’re crossing the street and you see a truck barreling down the lane towards you. In response, your brain sends a number of stress signals to your adrenals to make adrenaline and cortisol so you can quickly dash out of the way to safety. This is our fight or flight response and is necessary for our survival.
This type of stress is like acute, but on overdrive. Your body is receiving the same hormonal signals from the the brain, but now ALL THE TIME. This consistent fight or flight mode is very damaging, which can lead to poor digestive function and gut flora balance, chronic inflammation, and even metabolic syndrome (type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease). Essentially, chronic stress causes our bodily systems to become dysregulated.
Meditation can have a remarkably positive impact in your ability to handle stressful situations better and implementing a daily routine may provide many benefits.
Benefits of meditation include:
- reduced stress
- reduced feelings of anger, depression and anxiety
- providing a sense of calm, peace and balance
- increased blood flow and regulated heart rate
- reduced pain and boosting the body’s immune system
- increased energy
There are many different types of meditation such as concentration meditation, open-focused meditation and even walking meditation. It’s great to research and try a variety of styles to see what feels right for you. While some people practice primarily one type, it’s perfectly okay to switch it up from time to time.
The method I’ve been using is Mindfulness Meditation. This is the most commonly practiced style of meditation in the western world. Also known as Vipassana, this traditional Buddhist form of meditation is all about being present. Thoughts are allowed to flow freely in and out while practising detachment from our feelings, and awareness is placed on the breath with no attempt to change the breathing pattern. Thoughts, feelings and breath are observed without reacting to or becoming them.
How to Meditate
Start small. For your first few sessions, start with five minutes a day, slowly working your way up until you can do 30 minutes.
1. Find a comfortable spot, either sitting in a chair or lying down.
2. With your eyes closed, imagine your head, eyes, tongue and jaw relaxing. Work your way down and relax your neck, shoulders, core, hips and all the way down to your toes. Take a short moment to notice each part/joint relaxing.
3. Breathing through the nostrils, feel the rise of your belly and expansion of your ribs as you inhale and the relaxation of these areas as you exhale. Let your mind concentrate on your breath and if your mind wanders off, just gently bring it back to the breath. Remember, it’s okay for your mind to wander. Just notice the thought, acknowledge it and let it go.
Do you meditate? What type of meditation do you enjoy doing? Let me know in the comments!
Physiol Behav. 1991 Sep;50(3):543-8. Effect of Buddhist meditation on serum cortisol and total protein levels, blood pressure, pulse rate, lung volume and reaction time.
Carnegie Mellon University. “Just 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation alleviates stress, study shows.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 July 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140702122535.htm>.