By Laurie Larson, Freelance Writer[insert media: woman-doing-meditative-yoga]
Our modern world can be a stressful one – 24-hour work connectivity, social media and the continued pressure to do and be more can result in us feeling more stressed than ever. Although some stress can be good, as we all now know, chronic or sustained stress is bad for both our physical and mental health. Various regular behavioral practices can help us to combat stress and the associated mental and physical disorders it can activate. One that is receiving increased attention in a range of studies is meditation – an exercise that enables us to find balance in an increasingly hectic world.
What is Meditation?
Mediation is a practice that gives our minds a break from the day-to-day stresses of life. By taking a few moments each day we can teach our bodies and minds how to truly relax and refresh. While often linked to thoughts of Buddhist monks or other religions, meditation is simply a set of techniques that are designed to help calm our minds, focus our attention and encourage a heightened state of awareness, often involving a focus on the breath.
Like any other exercise, it takes a little practice to become comfortable with meditation. However, numerous studies have shown that meditating for even a short period can give you immediate benefits and 20 minutes a day can reverse the adverse effects of stress. The great thing about meditation is that the more you practice, the more benefits you experience. From a reduction in tension, negative thoughts, anxiety, and stress to a slowing of the aging process, meditation can vastly improve both mental and physical health.
The Benefits of Meditation
Along with improving our mind’s resilience and ability to cope with stressful situations, meditation has been shown to improve the quality of our sleep, body function, and other mental capabilities.
Improved Sleep quality: The quality and quantity of sleep we get on a regular basis has a huge impact on our mental health. Meditation allows us to become better at winding down and preparing the mind and body for sleep. Regardless of whether you meditate first thing in the morning, at some point throughout the day, or just before you switch off the light, training your mind and body to trigger a relaxation response will help you to sleep better at night.
A Stronger Immune System: Meditation has been shown to improve our immune system responses in recent studies by improving our cellular health. Along with an alteration in the expression of genes associated with stress, inflammation and wound healing, experienced meditators also show changes in genes linked to combating viral infections with other studies finding an increase in resistance to viruses such as seasonal flu.
Experienced meditators also have increased telomerase activity – the enzyme responsible for building and maintaining telomeres, which are the sections at the end of our chromosomes that stop them unraveling, a process connected with a number of chronic illnesses and aging.
Improved focus and concentration: As meditation requires us to live more in the present and less within our thoughts, it causes us to be able to focus and concentrate on the task at hand better. Just a quick few-minute mindfulness meditation five days a week has shown to vastly improve a person’s ability to perform well in tasks that required both concentration and quick reaction time.
How to Start Meditation
There are a number of different ways to make meditation part of your daily routine. It is often recommended that people who are new to the practices start off with smaller sessions – just 5 to 10 minutes a day is enough to get you started.
Beginners can also benefit from guided sessions, so try searching for a group in your area, watching a YouTube clip or downloading an app to get started.
Beginning the day with meditation can set you up for the day ahead, improving your productivity and feelings of happiness throughout the day. Studies show that we are more likely to make health-minded decisions in the morning before we’ve left the house, so it’s worth trying to work meditation into your morning routine – similar to brushing your teeth or having that morning coffee.