Meditation – it seems like a good idea, sitting still and focusing your mind. But how many times have you said, “I don’t have time to meditate” or “I’m not very good at it”?
Meditation is actually far less complicated than you imagine, and it’s proven to improve your health in so many ways! So we’ve put together a guide to Meditation to make life easy for you.
Let’s start with what meditation actually is…
In its simplest form, meditation involves “turning the mind and attention inward and focusing on a single thought, image, object or feeling”, according to the Australian Teachers of Meditation Association. It works to train your mind to focus on the moment, rather than replaying the past or worrying about the future.
Meditation doesn’t just help you feel relaxed and focused though – evidence suggests it has many long-term health benefits, which we’ll get to later.
First though, let’s clear up a few misconceptions…
- Meditation takes too much time
There’s no set time that you have to meditate, but it is like any skill – the more you practice, the better you get. If you want to manage stress or improve your focus, practicing as little as five minutes at either end of the day can help. However, research suggests you’ll need to meditate around 40 minutes a day if you are trying to manage more severe conditions like chronic pain or depression.
- You need to practice every day
Similar to what we’ve mentioned above, it isn’t essential to meditate every day, but it does help if it’s something you want to get good at. Think of it like taking your mind to the gym to improve your “mental fitness”.
- Meditation takes years of practice to work
Research shows that meditation can start to change your state of mind from your first practice. Think of it like running – each time you do it, you’ll reap the benefits.
- Meditation is just for religious or spiritual people
Ok, yes it’s true that meditation has been practiced for thousands of years in various cultures and religions, but it’s definitely not just for the spiritual. However, the practice itself is non-sectarian, non-religious and non-theistic. It’s basically a mental exercise that has been shown to have huge mental benefits for anyone with a human mind and body, no matter what your spiritual views.
Not convinced? Here are just 3 ways meditation is proven to improve your health…
1. Meditation protects your mind
Our brains actually begin deteriorating after the age of 20, and continue degrading further as we get older. While this is scary news, a study by US and Australian researchers found that this process can be slowed with meditation. The study found that long-term meditators had better-preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged. While both groups experienced a decline in gray matter, long-term practitioners of mindfulness meditation were shown to experience much less age-related brain deterioration than those who don’t meditate.
2. Meditation reduces “monkey mind”
Have you ever heard of the “monkey mind”? If you haven’t, I highly recommend watching this video. It’s essentially when your mind wanders from topic to topic in a loop of self-referential thoughts. It’s something we spent about 50 per cent of our awake life doing, and is associated with lower levels of happiness and poor mental health. But Yale University recently found that mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the default mode network (DMN), which is the area of the brain responsible for “monkey mind”. Several studies have since shown that meditation, through its quieting effect on the DMN, appears to “dial down” the “monkey brain”. And even when the mind does start to wander, because of the new connections that form, meditators are better at snapping back out of it. This may partly explain why mindfulness has been accepted as a useful therapy for anxiety and depression for around a decade.
3. It can relieve pain, depression and anxiety
A study at John Hopkins University examined the relationship between mindfulness meditation and it’s ability to reduce depression, anxiety and pain. It found that the effect size of meditation was moderate, at 0.3. This might sound low, but keep in mind that the effect size for antidepressants is also 0.3! Meditation isn’t a magic bullet for depression, but it’s one of the tools that may help manage symptoms.
Another study found that advanced meditators feel less pain than non-meditators, despite showing more activity in the areas of the brain associated with pain.
While this seems illogical, it shows that meditators are better able to reduce the unpleasantness of the pain stimulation than others. They don’t block pain, they simply avoid engaging in the thought processes that make the stimulation more painful.
And that’s not all…
Meditation has also been shown to:
- Relieve stress
- Help you sleep better
- Improve concentration and boost efficiency when multitasking
- Jumpstart creativity
- Reduce addiction cravings
- Boost your compassion and improve relationship satisfaction
- Help with a wide range of conditions, including PTSD, High Blood Pressure, ADHD and even cancer patients
Where to start with meditation…
For just a few minutes in the morning and evening, rather than looking at your phone or going online, try quieting down your mind. Just a few minutes can make a big difference.
If you’re not sure how to start, there are lots of sites you can go to for guided meditations. Take a look through our list, try a few and see what suits you – everyone is different!
- ABC’s Radio National provides a great list of free guided meditations to try.
- Smiling Mind is a not-for-profit organisation offering a free mindfulness meditation App.
- Headspace offer a free 10-day trial of their meditations
- Find a teacher through the Australian Meditation Association
- Monash University also offer a free Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance Course throughout the year, as seen on ABC’s Catalyst
If you want more information or would like to book an appointment, please call us during business hours on (02) 4961 4075. We offer a free 15min chat with a Naturopath who can answer any questions you may have.
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