Updated: Oct 17
If you’re thinking meditation is not for me hang around as I’m going to offer some background which is likely to surprise you and I believe will change your mind.
If you already enjoy and value meditation then fantastic let’s learn more about it together. I’d love to start off by sharing some scientific evidence around why and how meditation can support you.
The first key point is that meditation is not something you need to “get right” it is personal and there are loads of different ways to go about it. Everyone can find an approach that works for them.
First I am going to share some stats and research then I’ll discuss common misconceptions about meditation before we will take a look at a few different styles of meditation. Then lastly I’m going to share some practical resources,links and apps so you can find and experience the calming benefits of this amazing practise.
Let’s take a look at some science and research supporting the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. When our bodies respond to stress and we are under mental pressure the body releases the hormone cortisol. In turn cortisol produces inflammatory cytokines.
In a 2010 study at the University of Massachusetts at hospital of psychiatry took 98 people through a mindfulness meditation program. The Doctors and professors measured individuals progress using the standard Beck anxiety inventory, this demonstrated clear and significant reductions in cortisol and stress response for the participants.
In separate 8 week study led two years later by Dr Rozenkranz at the University of Wisconsin in 2012 they explored the role of stress. It was proven that mindful meditation was the most effective intervention at reducing psychological stress from a range of other tested treatments.
And isn’t it in any case unsurprising that if we slow down, sit or lie down and close off our eyes, deepen our breathing and take a moment to ourselves and, that it is a good thing, and it will relax us and rejuvenate us?
One key part of meditation in fact is the breathing. Simple focused breathing exercises or deliberate breathing patterns offer multiple benefits. Deep breathing slows the heart rate and increases the amount of oxygen entering the blood stream. It releases the happiness hormone endorphin which dulls pain and increases euphoria. Deep breathing also helps release toxins from the body. There is an associated increase in blood oxygen which then carries and absorbs nutrients more efficiently. As a result stamina is increased as well as overall body function. It reduces blood pressure, regulates heart rate and improves digestion. As our breathing slows and deepens it activates our parasympathetic nervous system which signals to the brain to relax.
It is unsurprising that there is a connection here in our innate survival system. We cannot in practical terms be running from a big brown bear while also calmly deep breathing and the body knows this and recognises the relationship. In practise there are very few big brown bears and sabre tooth tigers around these days. The stress response of the human body hasn’t changed in 100’s of thousands of years though. Nowadays we feel fear and anxiety from work pressures. So our sense of distress and danger is automatic but also somewhat out of context from what it was designed to safeguard.
Meditation is, above all else, about taking stock and rationalising our concerns and worries. It is about spending some quality time alone with yourself.
We have taken a peak at a fraction of the positive scientific evidence for the benefits of calming meditation and slowing our breathing. Let’s spend a short moment together exploring the misconceptions about meditation.
The first misconception is about how you have to empty your mind.
Have you tried this and failed?
It’s almost impossible right. Actually this common belief about meditation is probably a misinterpretation of some advanced meditation types like Dzogchen meditations. Actually pushing yourself to limit your thinking is quite an unhelpful approach particularly for early meditation training. Allowing your thinking to wander aimlessly, while guiding it gently away from specific worries or current problems is a better beginner approach. It doesn’t matter too much where your mind goes provided you encourage it away from that difficult email or work problem. Give you mind a break and move into more of a natural flow of softer thoughts. We are looking for a kind of peaceful reflective awareness rather than an empty mind. It is very personal to you. You may for example choose to drift away and dream of a favourite place. Perhaps you are on a beach and imagine the sun on your face, the breeze in your hair and the noise of waves lapping on the sand. Or you might wish to find positivity in sending compassion and kindness to other humans. Your imagination and meditative wanderings are as varied and personal as you choose to make them.
The next misconception I’d like to share with you is that meditation will work straight away. Why would doing something new be easy the first few times? Just like developing any new habits and skill it may take a few attempts of going through the motions, exploring your preferred style and getting used to the experience.
The next incorrect belief we can take a look at together is that there is only one type of meditation. There are many known styles. On the one hand there is an activity based in the moment presence style. For example focusing the mind while washing the dishes and exploring the sensations, the bubbles on your hands the noises and smells. Experiencing and paying attention to the task with all your senses. There is buddist style close eyed visualisation. Completely different again is the slow meditative movement styles meditation like Tai Chi.
Many people advocate sound bowls for a peaceful focus or repeating a mantra. Mantras can also be with an aim to reprogram some unhelpful thoughts.
As I mentioned at the start a simple breath focused anxiety reducing meditation is a fantastic place to begin.
So how are we doing? We have accepted the fact that you aren’t meditating wrong if you can’t empty your mind. That you can choose a style to suit your needs and preferences. We have also accepted that we may need to create some time to give ourselves some valuable down time to ourselves, we have also acknowledged that this new habit might take a little practise.
It has to be worth those few first goes to experience some of the known benefits. From improving depression, anxiety and stress, lessening back pain and i.b.s., right through to finding clarity, purpose and focus and letting go.
If we take a brief look at letting go a powerful personal opportunity to explore is forgiveness. Whether it is a co-worker, boss, partner, parent or child who has done something which upset you there is always value in letting it go. Practising forgiveness is liberating, as they say you can’t always change what other people do, but you have control over how you let it make you feel. Sometimes it is enough just to repeat I forgive you, as you imagine the person before you. You don’t even have to speak to someone or resolve the issue for yourself. Some like to write a letter but not send it so they can process something better for themselves. For deeper rooted concerns going through a repeated forgiveness ritual over a number of days or weeks can ultimately clear the way. We can all choose to detach the ties of a negative emotion. We may even choose to focus on forgiving ourselves for something within a meditation.
Ok so you are intrigued by some of the benefits of meditation and like the idea of ten or twenty minutes peace and quiet everyday. Maybe you are simply looking for a little calm to de-stress. Perhaps you’d like to escape reality for a bit, or find greater compassion for others? Or even empower yourself visualising you future goals with purpose. How might you be able to start and where can you find some guided meditations to try out?
There are many resources available to you the larger part of them are free. There are lots of different guided meditations on apps, YouTube, Instagram, podcasts and more. These sources will offer all these styles and subject areas and many more.
On You tube you might search for Vishen Lakhiani and his six phase meditation, this is a great all round meditation which looks to the past and future and shares six different aspects to explore. It is powerful for compassion and manifesting your abundance.. Vishen actually puts meditation down as being the key tool that helped him achieve his incredible business success, he has a fascinating life story.
Common apps to have a go with on your phone include Insight Timer, Calm, Breethe and Headspace. So get on the googles and talk to your friends and try out a few and see what you get the most from.
I encourage you to become a proud meditator. Say to other people “Sorry I can’t do that right no I have a planned 15 minute meditation.”
Persevere with trying meditation out and you will be glad you did.
Another barrier to this is probably when a belief that don’t have time, I get this I really do, I run my own business and have three young kids. The reality is though that we find the time we need for the things that matter. If we really shine a spotlight on our time usage, even keep a record of it and hold an awareness for any low quality activities we can really find those 1,000 minutes we are awake each day.
I’d love to encourage you to revisit where time may be reallocated and invest a little time recharging and time with yourself, I can pretty much guarantee that it will help with your effectiveness across the board.
I wish you tranquillity, clarity, calm, productivity, greater self-awareness, focus and above all I wish you less stress in your life.
I am a big advocate of meditation from physiological benefits, and from my own experience in mitigating stressful moments in my own life. I’d like to encourage you to join us, to join my wife, my mother in law, many of my clients, and millions of others worldwide already benefiting from the practice..