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Meditation practice: what is it and what are the benefits?

Posted by Quieta Bail Student Naturopath
Meditation practice: what is it and what are the benefits?

A couple of weekends ago I attended a meditation workshop to learn Meditation 101. We often speak about meditation at Gr8 Health as an excellent practice to reduce stress and improve health overall. Although, when it comes to applying it, well… I can be a little lazy. Nonetheless, meditation has so many benefits, both mentally and physically, so it’s something I really want to continue to try to implement into my lifestyle practices. And you should too!

What is meditation?

History

Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. The earliest reference to it comes from India around 1500 BCE on training of the mind, as well as in China in the 3rd and 6th century BC which references forms of meditation linked to Daoism. It was first considered as a spiritual practice, often practiced by Buddhist monks to reach enlightenment. Meditation was introduced to the West and became removed from it’s more religious connections. By the 1960s, meditation got the attention of scientists with studies being conducted on its benefits. This helped to encourage the practice to be done by anyone, not just those seeking spirituality and/or religion. Today, the benefits of meditation are widely studied, practiced and promoted.

The art of Meditation

What I found enjoyable about the meditation workshop I attended was it made me realise how many different types of meditation practices there are. It doesn’t have to just be sitting down in complete silence and trying to ignore your thoughts. Meditation is about cultivating awareness, compassion and training the mind to be focused and present. Using breath as your focus point, meditation practice calms the mind and allows you to observe your thoughts and let them go.

Meditation can change the structure of your brain waves. Normally, humans’ function on Beta waves which is seen as conscious thought and external focus. During successful meditation, we usually start off with high beta. Then we drift into ‘alpha’ which is a more spacey, dreamy state where you may feel receptive and passive. This can grow to theta waves where subconscious creativity and deep relaxation kicks in. Ultimately, meditation practice can lead to delta brain waves which is the deep unconscious, where intuition and insight can be realized.

Benefits of Meditation practice

Meditation has many benefits both physically and mentally. These effects can be almost instant, with many practicing meditations for assistance in acute relaxation and stress reduction. But it doesn’t end here, this state of relaxation and sense of calmness can carry on well after the meditation practice has ended.

There’s evidence that shows meditation can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression or help people with insomnia. It can also have physical improvements too. For example, evidence suggests that meditation can reduce blood pressure in those with hypertension (therefore reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease), reduce symptoms of IBS and even reduce pain! Preliminary evidence also has found that mindfulness-based interventions can help smoking cessation.

Meditation can actually change the structure of your brain: those who have practiced meditation for many years have more folds in the outer layer of the brain which can increase your ability to process information. Research has found that meditation may slow, stall or even reverse age related changes in the brain! Meditation can affect the amygdala activity (the emotions processing area of the brain) with long lasting effects.

How to meditate

This depends on the type of meditation you want to do. There are many different types such as guided, mantra, and mindfulness meditations. You may wish to just focus all the attention on the breath, or do a body scan, repeat a mantra or affirmation, depending on your own goals. These all include different features but usually include a mixture of the following features:

  • Focused attention: this can be on an object, image, mantra, breath, or flame.
  • Relaxed breath: deep, diaphragmatic breathing with slow, even breaths being a key focus point.
  • Quite & calm setting: this speaks for itself – you want the environment you are meditating in to be as relaxed as you want to feel, especially if you’re a beginner.
  • Comfortable seating: you can practice sitting down or laying down (although you may fall asleep). Just aim to be comfortable and keep a good posture.

If you’re a beginner or wish to explore your skills, I recommend that you look to do a workshop or use apps such as ‘Headspace’ and ‘Calm’ which have a range of free guided meditations using different styles.

 

Sources:

https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation-in-depth

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22700446/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3718554/

https://positivepsychology.com/history-of-meditation/

https://www.headspace.com/meditation/how-to-meditate

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