The truth is that meditation does not have to be complicated and time consuming. Something as simple as sitting quietly and breathing for 20-30 minutes per day can have a huge impact on your physical and mental health.
Meditation has been used for centuries as a powerful health practice in Ayurvedic, Indian and Tibetan medicine and now it is making its way to the West. Recently science has started to study the profound effects that meditation can have on our minds and bodies. This is especially exciting now as we see the rise of chronic health conditions that all have their route cause in stress and inflammation.
Chronic stress causes our adrenal glands to release stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones raise our blood sugar levels, weaken our immune system, stops digestion and raise blood pressure. These are all the things you WANT your body to do when it is faced with a serious threat, but it doesn’t do you any good to be in this state chronically.
Meditation creates a complete opposite state to stress because it switches off the “flight or fright” response and allows the parasympathetic nervous system to take over. This slows the heart rate and improves digestion. In fact, one study showed that patients with IBS significantly reduced their bloating, diarrhoea and constipation by mediating twice daily.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that people who practiced relaxation techniques had activated “protective” genes that greatly reduced their incidence of pain, infertility, high blood pressure and inflammatory conditions.
While the idea of lounging in front of the TV with a glass of wine might sound good, that is not the kind of relaxing that will reap benefits. Some easy meditation techniques you can try for 15 minutes, once or twice daily are:
• Sit comfortably or lie down and close your eyes. Focus on your breath. Breathe in for 5 counts, hold for 5 counts and breathe out for 5 counts.
• Use a meditation CD to guide you. These tools provide soothing music, a calming voice and guided imagery for you to focus on and help you reach a state of relaxation.
• Mindfulness meditation is a practice whereby you focus on one specific thing (like your breath, an object in the room or a sensation in your body). Each time you feel your mind wander from the focus, just bring it back gently. Try not to engage with distracting thoughts and just let them come and go. The mind is not used to being disciplined so it is bound to wander many times but the point of the exercise is to keep bringing it back.