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Meditation

Meditation is a relaxation technique designed to still the mind, improve your breathing, and create a sense of inner peace.

 

An Introduction to Meditation

Meditation can be defined as a set of techniques that are intended to encourage a heightened state of awareness and focused attention.

It is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.

 

Where did Meditation originate?

Meditation has been practised in cultures all over the world for thousands of years and stems from Eastern traditions including Ayurvedic Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Although it is often used for religious purposes, the majority of people today practice it independently from any beliefs. In recent times it has also been used as a therapeutic aid and will likely continue to develop as researchers learn more about the benefits and applications of the practice.

How can Meditation benefit you?

How can Meditation benefit you?

While meditation isn’t a cure-all, it can certainly provide some much-needed space in your life. Sometimes, that’s all we need to make better choices for ourselves, our families, and our communities. When we meditate, we inject far-reaching and long-lasting benefits into our lives.

If your mind is a muscle, then meditation is a way to take it to the gym. The stronger the control of your mind becomes, the more you’re able to consciously control what your mind focuses on and how it processes new information.

People who practice Meditation find the benefits to be wide-ranging including:

  • Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
  • Learning skills to better manage stress
  • Increasing self-awareness
  • Being present in the moment
  • Reducing negative emotions
  • Increasing imagination and creativity
  • Improved communication skills
  • Finding empowerment and motivation
  • Personal development and goals
  • Self-exploration
  • Relationship building
  • Increasing patience and tolerance
  • Finding balance and harmony
  • Improving happiness
  • Increasing energy and vitality
  • Balance hormones
  • Finding relaxation
  • Life longevity
  • Suppressing chronic inflammation states
  • Maintaining a healthy gut barrier function

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Further Reading / Meditation studies

Many studies are being conducted into the health benefits of Meditation and the findings are very promising.

 

Focus
A study from Harvard Medical School (2011)  found a connection between meditation and processing new information. The study showed an increase in grey matter in the part of the brain responsible for memory, emotional regulation and learning. Another study from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (2016) showed that meditation can improve decision making and overall focus levels.

 

Stress
In 2013 researchers analysed more than 200 studies on meditation, and came to the conclusion that it is an effective way to reduce stress. The stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, activate our ‘sympathetic nervous system’. This in turn prepares the body for fight-or-flight scenarios by increasing the heart rate, raising blood pressure, quickening breathing, switching off digestion, and firing-up muscle cells.

Meditation helps to dampen down those stress hormones and switches the body towards the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the rest-and-digest nervous system, as it restores relaxation, balance and harmony within the body.

 

Anxiety and depression
JAMA Internal Medicine published a study where they had found evidence that meditation helped ease depression and anxiety in participants. Another study found evidence suggesting that the practice can help people with anxiety to calm their minds and reduce symptoms of depression, including loss of appetite and trouble with sleep.

At Stanford University, 14 participants with social anxiety disorder participated in a study on meditation training over the course of two months. The study showed decreased anxiety and improved self-esteem in the participants.

A study by Filip Raes on 400 adolescent students in Belgium showed that when they participated in mindful meditation programs, they had a noticeable reduction in depression, negative thinking, and stress for up to six months after the training.

 

Pain

A study by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) found that mindful meditation reduces pain sensations in the body without using the brain’s natural opiates. The research suggested that combining the practices with medication for treating pain conditions like osteoarthritis, headaches, and other chronic pains can be useful for providing long-term remedies.

 

Self-esteem and self-confidence

This study was conducted on 56 inmates at a local jail. Participants were assigned to 1-hour weekly mindfulness meditation or waitlist control group. Results supported that the more experienced meditators had higher self-esteem, self-compassion and felt less isolated than the other group.

Another study used data from research papers written over the past ten years on mindfulness and meditation to gather a concise view of the effects of the practices in combating anxiety, depression, and poor self-esteem as well as the increase in positives such as confidence and general well-being. The data proved there was a marked reduction in anxiety attacks and depression. Participants reported increased feelings of confidence, capability, and well-being.

 

Sleep and Fatigue

A study of 48 MPN patients (Myeloproliferative neoplasm patients suffer from long-term symptoms and reduced quality of life) over a period of 8 weeks stated positive effects of meditation on mental health, sleep, fatigue, and pain.

 

Headaches 

Forty patients based on the diagnosis of a neurologist and diagnostic criteria of the International Headache Society (IHS) for migraine and chronic tension-type headache were selected and randomly assigned to the intervention group and control group of this study.

The intervention group enrolled in an eight-week program that incorporated meditation and daily home practice, per week, session of 90-minutes. Results showed significant improvement in pain and quality of life in the intervention group compared with the control group.

What are the different types of Meditation?

What are the different types of Meditation?

There are dozens of techniques, but here are some commonly used ones.

 

Focus attention meditation

This is where you focus only on one thing such as your breathing, a particular object or a part of your body. When you feel your mind starts to wander you continually bring your attention and focus back to that focal point.

This object may be the breath, a mantra, visualization, part of the body, external object, etc. As you advance in your practice, the ability to keep the flow of attention in the chosen object gets stronger, and distractions become less common and short-lived.

Examples of these are Chakra, Kundalini, Sound, Mantra, Pranayama, and some forms of Qigong.

 

Open-monitored meditation 

This is where you pay attention to all of the things happening around you. This can be the space you are in or the sounds around you at that time. In this instance, you are observing without forcing your thoughts.

Instead of focusing the attention on any one object, you keep it open, monitoring all aspects of your experience, without judgment or attachment. All thoughts, feelings, memories, sounds or smells are recognized and seen for what they are. It is the process of observing without reacting or going into them.

Examples are Mindfulness, Vipassana, as well as some types of Taoist Meditation.

 

How can I begin to meditate?

For some, it can feel like a daunting task trying to learn meditation. If you prefer to take a class or a course for a more one-to-one experience, there are plenty to choose from. A class will usually last between 30-60 minutes, you will either sit on the floor, on a chair or lay down on a mat. It is a good idea to wear something warm and comfortable.

You also have other options ranging from apps dedicated to mindfulness, YouTube videos and podcasts to help you familiarise yourself with the concept and the various methods of meditation.

How can I begin to meditate?

How do I find the right Meditation class or course for me?

Meditation does not always come naturally, and therefore practitioners are likely to give up if they do not find a practice that suits them. It’s worth trying a few different styles in order to find the one that suits you the best. Some people find Guided Meditation a good style to start with as this helps focus the mind on a ‘journey towards relaxation.

The more your practice the easier it gets. Once you’ve learned how to achieve ‘passive alertness’ you can use meditation as a daily tool to help improve your wellbeing. And the good thing is, you can learn the techniques and practices in as little as five minutes and once you learn you’ll never forget.

The beautiful thing is that none of the techniques or styles of meditation is right or wrong, simply different.

Whatever forces you to focus your mind on your awareness and let go of any thoughts or emotions that arise is a form of meditation. Whether it involves mantras, counting breaths, yoga, chanting or rituals they can all serve the same purpose.

 

Finding a practitioner

When it comes to learning meditation, having teachers who guide you in this facilitative way is vitally important. Meditation lies somewhere between an intellectual pursuit and skills training of the kind that athletes, martial artists, and musicians, among others, rely on.

It involves techniques that have physical aspects, and it is indeed a bit like building up a muscle – so some coaching and guidance are integral aspects of learning the practice of meditation.

In the UK there is no one regulatory body overseeing the professional context for mindfulness-based teaching. However, the closest thing to a widely accepted standard for measuring mindfulness teacher competence today is the Mindfulness-Based Intervention Teaching Assessment Criteria, or MBI: TAC.

MBI: TAC was created in 2008 by researchers from Oxford, Exeter, and Bangor Universities in the UK. It focuses on skills required to teach a class of students, measuring competence in six different areas.

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Medical concerns

Holistic disciplines can assist you in your wellbeing, though they are not a substitute for medical care. This information should be used as a guide only to help you explore which holistic disciplines may assist you. We recommend researching the discipline and speaking with a practitioner before choosing to book any service.

This information is not, nor is it intended to be used as a medical diagnosis. Any information provided must be considered as guidance only, and not a substitute for obtaining a diagnosis from a medical professional. Please see the full terms and conditions of use. Always consult your doctor for any medical concerns.

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