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Meditation isn’t a new practice, in fact it dates back thousands of years, but it has been growing in popularity in recent years. Our world has become increasingly stressful, as the ease of communication and the accessibility of our work and the news has increased.
Of course, 2020 has been even more stressful for obvious reasons, and so meditation has become even more mainstream.
Meditation focuses your attention on one specific thing, whether it’s a word or mantra, a rhythm or your breath. It is an ancient practice that has gained attention in recent years and practitioners often hail it as being a life-changing journey.
Meditation is often associated with Buddhism, but those who practice meditation don’t have to be a Buddhist or in any way religious. Mindfulness meditation is known for its ability to impart a sense of peace and tranquillity and doctors often associate it with good mental and physical health.
There are many reasons why people choose to meditate on a weekly or daily basis:
Contrary to popular belief, a longer attention span and ability to concentrate can be a learned skill. Mindfulness is at the root of many types of meditation, and this is the practice of living life in a series of moments rather than one big, long stretch of time. Mindfulness isn’t an easy habit to grasp and maintain, but it can be valuable when it comes to focusing on one thing at a time.
The benefits of mindfulness when it comes to focusing are clear, but it’s also worth mentioning the inherently negative effect of mind wandering on the mood. If a person is prone to ruminating and worrying, the skill of focusing on more neutral or positive things can be invaluable.
Many studies have discovered that mindfulness meditation reduces the body's level of cortisol, which is the steroid hormone responsible for the body’s response to stress. It has also been said that repeating a mantra or repetitive phrase has a calming effect, allowing the person to shift their attention from their thoughts and onto their practice.
Psychological stress has been found to have reduced in patients suffering from chronic stress who practice meditation daily, and this is certainly worth noting when it comes to preventative measures. Many of us suffer from symptoms of chronic stress and anxiety, but fail to see it what it is until our bodies also become sick. Meditation helps us become more aware of our thought patterns and remember that we are in control.
Just like with concentration and focus, we can rewire our brains to work in a way that does not encourage impulsive activity. One study discovered that the neural pathways and circuits could be altered through mental exercises, and meditation can encourage the growth of new neurons. In other words, it is possible to rewire our brains so that addictive personality traits are thwarted. Meditation can also help to reduce the risk of future substance abuse by regulating the release of serotonin over a slower time.
This isn’t just important for those with drug addictions, it can be helpful for those of us giving up smoking, who want to cut back on chocolate and junk food, and switch our habits to ones that enrich our lives and our overall wellbeing.
Meditation that focuses on self-inquiry can increase a person’s self-awareness and subsequent self-esteem. By focusing on your personal growth and development, you’re likely to view the world in a more positive light as you develop a clearer understanding of yourself and the world around you.
Other forms of meditation encourage you to think of your thoughts as transient and less factual. This can be beneficial to those who consistently experience self-defeating or even harmful thoughts about themselves.
When you learn a new skill, and you feel more at peace as a result, it makes sense that your self-esteem goes up. It’s a positive cycle and can be truly transformative. Many of us who experience significant levels of stress, anxiety, and even depression often forget to put ourselves first and foremost in our lives, and bringing the focus back to ourselves can help reduce these feelings significantly by making us think about what we really want from life.
By setting aside a little time each day to think positively and lovingly about those around you, you’re consciously working on those relationships, even in the absence of those people. The practice of loving-kindness meditation involves envisioning loved ones and wishing them success and happiness. You can then extend this practice to people you don’t know personally, or even inwards, as you wish yourself well.
Loving-kindness meditation can be a powerful way to develop empathy as well as decreasing your likelihood of unconsciously causing damage to others, through things like prejudice or stereotyping.
The cognitive root of depression has been studied extensively, and one study noted that meditation could effectively target these roots. The study also mentioned that meditation therapy could be helpful for those suffering from clinical depressive disorders.
As well as having therapeutic benefits, meditation is also said to reduce the inflammatory chemicals that lead to the body’s stress response. While many cases of depression are not simply the result of chemical imbalance, and meditation cannot cure psychological disorders, it can certainly help to ease the burden and make such issues more manageable.
Insomnia is a common affliction, and yet is difficult to remedy. Because it’s often associated with anxiety and stress, insomnia is often as much of a physical issue as a mental one. One review of the value of mindfulness meditation assessed the sleeping patterns of two groups of people. One group practiced mindfulness meditation before sleeping, and the other group didn’t.
Unsurprisingly, the group who practiced meditation fell asleep quicker and stayed asleep longer than those who didn’t. Again, while meditation isn’t a cure-all, it’s certainly worth trying if you battle with a racing mind at night.
Meditation comes in many forms, each of which focuses on a different issue, and can really be done in any way that feels right to you. If you don’t like sitting still, try taking a walk in nature with your phone on silent. Meditation is, at it’s core, about spending time with your own thoughts and letting them pass you by. You don’t have to sit crossed-legged and hum. Do what feels right for you.
Whether you’re concerned about your attention span, you’re prone to anxiety or depression, or you’d simply like to increase your self-awareness, meditation can be hugely beneficial. We have always associated meditation with peace, love, stability, and tranquillity. Who wouldn’t want more of that in their life?
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