Meditation is not necessarily something that comes easy to many people in Britain. It’s not a practice most of us are raised with, however, it has been scientifically proven to be far more than simply chilling out, and the health benefits of the practice are undeniable.
Life will inevitably throw obstacles our way – just take a look at the situation we’re all in now, many of us are stuck at home without human contact because of a pandemic that has hit the whole world – but it’s how we deal with these obstacles which really shapes who we are.
Meditation is a powerful way to control your mind, lower the cortisol levels in your body and check in with how your body and mind are. Perhaps you’ve tried mediation previously, or you’re new to all of this and are intrigued about this peaceful practice and wish to see how it could help you. Or maybe you’re a daily practicer (fantastic!) who is looking for new tools to experiment with and possibly deepen your practice.
Below we’ve comprised a list of 5 ways meditation can help you through difficult times and the tools to use to help you get started with, or back into, a daily practice.
1. Meditation can help you reduce stress
You may have heard this a lot, but it’s true! When you meditate regularly, your body will enter a true, deep state of rest, which will help you release the effects of chronic stress and restore your mind and body to its natural balanced state. A regular practice can achieve this neutral state of mind and body by awakening new neural connections and even changing the structure of the brain in ways that decrease habitual patterns of stress and instead promote calm.
Research conducted by Harvard University found that after only eight weeks of meditation, participants experienced beneficial growth in the brain areas associated with memory, learning, empathy, self-awareness, and stress regulation. In addition, those who were practising meditation in the study reported that they felt calmer and less anxious.
If you’re looking to get these results, but don’t know where to start, we would recommend using the app Headspace. Headspace focuses on the science behind mindfulness and their app includes hundreds of guided meditations, with a really helpful 10 day ‘Basics’ pack, which slowly introduces you into the world of mindfulness. Headspace offers a two-week free trial, or, if this pandemic has left you unemployed, at the moment they are offering you a year for free to help you take control of your mental health.
2. Meditation promotes relaxation and restful sleep
A whopping 1/3 of the UK population struggles to get a good night’s sleep! Not sleeping enough is detrimental to our health, and it increases our stress levels and irritability. Scientific studies have found that meditation is an effective therapy for insomnia and can help you get a restful night’s sleep.
When you meditate, your brain produces more brainwaves that promote deep relaxation. Once you have established a regular practice, this sense of greater calm will follow you into your daily activities, allowing you to stay more centred in the face of life’s inevitable upsets. Then, when bedtime comes around, instead of ruminating about what happened earlier in the day, you are more likely to drift to sleep—and stay asleep.
There are many guided meditations, or relaxing sounds, that you can listen to whilst you’re in bed, which can help you drift off. Insight Timer is a free app that has a whole section on how to ‘Improve your sleep’ which includes stories, music, guides and Yoga Nidra practices to help you when you wish to catch some zzz’s. If you really enjoy the app, you can upgrade to the premium version to unlock more features.
3. Meditation boosts cognitive function which improves focus
We’re all guilty of trying to do more than one thing at a time, but neuroscientists have discovered that the conscious brain cannot multitask, so juggling tasks is a practically impossible thing to do and can, therefore, cause us stress. If you’re catching up with work emails and talking to your mum on the phone, you’re either doing one or the other or maybe not really doing either.
In a Psychological Science study, a link was identified between mindfulness training and increased standardised test scores, as well as improvements in working memory. This is because meditation helps you to train your brain to stay focused on the task at hand, rather than letting our attention be pulled away by every passing thought and distraction. This allows you to be more effective and less stressed when difficult situations arise. This one-pointed attention makes you more effective and less stressed.
There are lots of free guided meditations on YouTube that are specifically honed towards increasing your concentration levels and making your mind more focused. Simply have a quick search and you will find many. Our favourites are this Go-to 3-minute Meditation by Deepak Chopra and the Rejuvenate & Gain Energy for Study, Concentration & Alertness video by The Honest Guys.
4. Meditation increases the growth of new neurons that help our wellbeing
Neurotransmitters play a key role in modulating and regulating behaviour and anxiety. The state of deep rest produced by meditation is a harmless way to encourage the growth of new neurons that enhance feelings of well-being, focus, and inner calm. Here are a few of the key neurotransmitters released during meditation and the benefits they provide:
- Dopamine plays a key role in the brain’s ability to experience pleasure, feel rewarded, and maintain focus.
- Serotonin has a calming effect. It eases tension and helps you feel less stressed and more relaxed and focused.
- GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) sends chemical messages through the brain and nervous system. One of its many roles is to inhibit the activity of nerve cells, helping to control fear and anxiety when neurons become overactivated.
- Endorphins are most commonly known as the chemicals that create the exhilaration referred to as “the runner’s high.” These neurotransmitters play many roles related to well-being, including decreasing feelings of pain and reducing the side effects of stress.
With meditation, you get all these benefits without any side-effects. Another well-recommend tool that can help you start this healthy growth of neurons are mala beads. These are particularly useful for mantra meditation, and they can really help you focus as you have something physically in your hand that you have to concentrate on moving.
5. Meditation brings self-awareness and helps you connect with yourself
Some forms of meditation may help you develop a stronger understanding and awareness of yourself that is separate from your thoughts and emotions, giving you a starting point for making other positive changes and helping you get through tough times. Self-inquiry meditation explicitly aims to help you develop a greater understanding of your true self.
Calm, one of the leading mindfulness apps, has meditation sessions that are built around self-awareness, so you can slowly discover who you are beyond your body, mind, thoughts, emotions, personality, possessions, accomplishments, relationships, and preferences.
we hope that by reading this post you will see that meditation is a beautiful way to explore your mind, body and spirit. If you have any additional tools to add to this list, or you have been inspired by this blog, please let us know by commenting on the Facebook post for this blog, or by getting in touch with our team.