MEDITATION FOR THE AVERAGE BEAR
The word ‘meditation’ can conjure a whole bunch of images. Orange-robed bald guys (well, mainly guys…though bald female monks are growing by the day). The long-haired, pungent, tie-dyed version – sitting in a variety of extremely uncomfortable positions. Then there’s the formal type, deeply steeped in religious tradition, mostly in musty semi-darkness. For the average bear, these images of meditation don’t seem that attractive.
So what if meditation was just sitting still and quietly for a while? No spiritual associations, no religious leanings, no particular hairstyles needed. Just sitting quietly. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
Why should I meditate?
Why sit quietly for a while? The benefits are quite simply astounding. Here they are:
- Improved mental health, mood and stress management
Yes, this is a rather obvious one. Meditation has shown a reduction of grey matter around the amygdala. Your amygdala plays a positive role in managing anxiety and stress. This suggests benefits of managing high stress situations and reducing the symptoms of PTSD or other trauma related conditions (1).
A Yale study has also found an additional benefit of reducing the ‘monkey mind’ part of our brain by decreasing the Default Mode Network part of our brain. This area has been found to be associated with schizophrenia, autism, ADHD, Alzheimer’s as well as anxiety and distracting thoughts (2).
Regular meditation or mindfulness has also been shown to improve emotional stability by reducing anxiety, depression and anger (3).
- Improved mental focus and clarity
Meditation for a period of just 8 weeks has been shown in numerous studies to increase cerebral blood flow and grey matter resulting in improved memory, attention, concentration and cognitive function (1)(4)(5)(6).
- Improved immune function
A 2003 study revealed meditation improved the rate of antibody production (8).
Another study showed that by reducing stress the level of cortisol in the body was reduced. Cortisol has the function of suppressing immune response to save energy in times of extreme threat. Therefore, less cortisol means your immune system can function more effectively meaning less winter colds and flus (3).
- Better relationships and socilaisation
By reducing our overall stress levels we are able to interact more easily in social environments and with those close to us. Situations of conflict can be more readily resolved as the stress response is harder to trigger – aka: you don’t ‘lose it’ as easily. (7-9)
- Improved behavior in children with developmental issues
By reducing the overall stress load on parents and children greater connection and reduced conflict has been found to be the benefit when using mindfulness behaviours (10-12)
- Improved workplace productivity
Reduced stress improves mental processing and clarity allowing greater productivity. Lower stress levels also have the added benefit of less workplace conflict by improved capacity for resolution and a lowered residual stress improving mood and adaption.
- Better quality sleep
A decreased stress response improves the capacity to sleep, as less time is required to wind down from the day. Issues that require further thought or resolution are able to be put in context and left for the next day.(13)
- Increased energy levels
Improved immune function, digestion and sleep means you use less energy and produce more. This helps you function at a higher level improving motivation and drive.
- Better digestion
When our body is operating in a state of high stress we kick into what is called the fight flight response. This means the body perceives it is under threat of injury or death. As a result it increases heart rate, respiratory rate and blood to the arms and legs in order to fuel your muscles to be able to fight or run. During this response body regulation functions that are not required for immediate survival are reduced. This includes digestion, reproduction, sleep, blood sugar regulation and blood pressure.
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
High stress states have been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease including artherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke. By increasing the strength of heart contractions risk to blood vessel integrity begin to occur over time. This can lead to inflammation of the blood vessel walls and build up of fatty deposits. This leads to narrowing of blood vessels and increased blood pressure further placing stress on the blood vessel walls. Over time with further degeneration smaller blood vessels in the kidneys and eyes become damaged reducing the function of those organs. If this continues it can put pressure on blood vessels in the head leading to a risk of swelling or bursting. Both of these can create significant damage to brain tissue causing a loss of function as in the case of stroke. (14)
Find meditation tricky?
And now you are going to tell me how you’ve tried to meditate but you couldn’t do it. Maybe but you couldn’t ride a bike once either. Whenever we engage in activities that are foreign to us it takes time to find our way. Unfortunately, our society has a strong fondness for the ‘quick fix’. We expect to be able to meditate like a Zen monk within ten minutes. It just doesn’t happen.
How do you meditate?
If you haven’t engaged in meditation before, I highly recommend attending some sort of class. The benefit is you have the additional focus of other people around you to help you find the way. Here are some local options for meditation Newcastle:
If you have a religious faith, you will find most mediation centres embrace all faiths. Always feel free to contact a centre to discuss their approach before attending a class.
There are also so amazing apps you can download that assist you to meditate your way to improved health and happiness. Here are a couple of ones that I recommend to clients:
It’s not a magic tonic
Like most things, mediation will not solve all of your problems. However, being able to separate yourself from your day to day stresses and get some perspective will help you to make more effective decisions in finding the right solutions.
- Britta K. Holzel., et al. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain grey matter density. Psychiatry Res. 2011 Jan 30; 191(1): 36–43.
- Brewer,J. (2011) Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity. PNAS, 108 (50)
- Tang, Y., et al. (2007). Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. PNAS, 104(43), 17152-17156.
- Keshav Thakur (2012) Meditation effects on cognitive function and cerebral blood flow in subjects with memory loss: a preliminary study. Ann Neurosci. 2012 Apr; 19(2): 81. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4117049/
- Lazar, S., et al. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. NeuroReport, 16(17), 1893-1897.
- Davidson, R., et al. (2003). Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65, 564-570.
- Carson, J., et al. (2004). Mindfulness-Based Relationship Enhancement. Behavior Therapy, 35, 471-494.
- Barnes, S., et al. (2007). The role of mindfulness in romantic relationship satisfaction and response to relationship stress. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 33(4), 482-500.
- Hutcherson, C., et al. (2008). Loving-Kindness Meditation Increases Social Connectedness. Emotion, 8(5), 720-724.
- Singh, N., et al. (2007). Mindful Parenting Decreases Aggression and Increases Social Behavior in Children with Developmental Disabiltiies. Behavior Modification, 31(6), 749-771.
- Singh, N., et al. (2006). Mindful Parenting Decreases Aggression, Noncompliance, and Self-Injury in Children with Autism. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 14(3), 169-177.
- Bögels, S., et al. (2008). Mindfulness Training for Adolescents with Externalizing Disorders and their Parents. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 36, 193-209.
- Wall, R. (2005). Tai Chi and mindfulness-based stress reduction in a Boston Public Middle School. Journal of Pediatric Health Care, 19(4), 230-237.
- Dimsdale, J. (2008). Psychological Stress and Cardiovascular Disease. J AM Coll Cardiol. 2008 Apr 1; 51(13); 1237-1246
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