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The beginners guide to meditation

What is meditation?

Meditation is an approach to training the mind, similar to the way that running is a way to train the body. There are many different ways to meditate, as there are many way to work out- so there truly is something for everyone. 

Meditation is a simple practice, available to all. This ancient practice is well known to quieten the mind, which promotes the feeling of calmness and clarity, promotes focus and productivity and reduces feelings of anxiety and depression. 

You wouldn't put your running shoes on and try to run a marathon with no training, so don't expect yourself to be able to sit for hours with a totally empty mind. You have to start small and work your way to a level that feels good for you.

 Why is meditation good for you?

The earliest examples of meditation found date back to around 5,000 BCE in the Indian subcontinent, so the practice certainly is nothing new. Herbert Benson, MD started researching the effects of transcendental meditation in the 1970's, coining the term 'relaxation response' to describe the 'opposite, involuntary response that causes a reduction in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system'. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the flood of hormones triggered during the flight or flight response, due to a perceived threat or to chronic stress, and meditation

Since then, studies into the relaxation response have found that meditation has a whole list of benefits on the nervous system, including:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved circulation
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Lower blood cortisol levels
  • Less stress
  • Improved sense of wellbeing
  • Deeper relaxation
  • Reduced respiratory rate

Researchers are also finding links between consistent meditation and longer term health benefits to brain and immune function. 

 

How does meditation work?

Where are so many different ways to meditate, but most encourage you to focus on one specific thing, usually either your breathing or a sensation in your body. This allows you to slow and deepen your breathing, which in turn slows your heart rate. 

Interestingly, meditation changes the way our brains process information:

  • The frontal lobe, responsible for reasoning, planning, emotions and self-conscious awareness appears to go completely offline.
  • The parietal lobe, responsible for processing information about the world around us, time and space slows down during meditation.
  • The Thalamus, the sensory information gatekeeper, is the part of the bran which chooses which information goes deeper into the brain. During meditation, it slows the flow of information right down.
  • The reticular formation is in charge of putting the brain on alert ready to respond to incoming information. During meditation, the arousal signals are turned right back.

So when you're meditating, your brain slows down the usual high flow of information, and your usual urge to react to your surroundings are dimmed, creating the sense of calm and quiet that induces a state of relaxation.

 

How do you actually meditate?

 You might have a picture in your mind of what meditation looks like, but there are actually millions of ways to do it. What's most important is that you consciously choose to slow down your thoughts and breathing. 

A great way to do this is to find a space where you feel calm, and can sit or lay down. Mindfulness meditation isn't about emptying your mind, or letting your thoughts wonder. It's about being entirely focused on the present moment; to your breathing and sensations.

If you find your mind straying, don't worry. Notice what you where thinking about and let it go. Gently draw your mind back to your focus and your breath. What's important is that you don't beat yourself up about it if your mind goes astray, the skill of bringing yourself back to a calm centre is what you want to work on!

Set aside a few minutes a day to practice this - the more regularly your practice, the easier you'll find it to stay focused, and the more benefits you'll notice. 

Once you've got the practice down, you might find other times and places where you can slip into a meditative state. While out walking in the woods, gardening, cooking or even playing golf, be conscious about your intention to let your mind quieten and to let your body go into a state of flow. 

 

Ready to give it a try?

Guided meditations are a great place to start - there are many online but our favourite are the weekly guided meditations now being lead by our very own founder, Alex in the Work Life Revolution Facebook Group. Come and join us.

 

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