Meditation – in particular mindfulness meditation – has become something of a buzz word in the field of alternative, and now traditional, medicine. With a quick google search you’ll find mediation cropping up along side mental health over 10,000,000 times with it featuring on the NHS and the Mental Health Foundation websites.
However, many misconceptions still abound where meditation is concerned, most notably around it’s spiritual connotations. But the truth about mediation is that it does not need to be a spiritual practice. Meditation is ultimately an exercise for your brain in the same way strength training is for your body. Except this practice does more than just build your muscles up; it also changes your entire thought process.
When we don’t exercise our neurons they settle into routine ways of processing information and thus lead to habitual ways of thinking and feeling. Ever had the same thoughts over and over again? This is because your neurons are – as neuroscientists say – firing and wiring in the same way that they always do. This means that by the time we are in our mid 30s, 95% of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours are automatic, governed by the subconscious mind.
But meditation can help us break these repetitive ways of thinking and feeling by teaching us to become aware of what is going through our brain and body. Being aware means we can also be detached, lessening the power our thoughts and feelings have over us.
Many recent scientific studies have uncovered the kinds of benefits meditation has on our mental health. A 2011 study carried out at Massachusettes General Hospital found that 8 weeks of meditation changed the structure of patients brains. Typically, grey matter in the amygdala – the part of the brain that regulates stress and anxiety – became reduced as was the grey matter in the hippocampus, the part of our brain responsible for our learning and memory.
Similarly, mindfulness mediation studies like the one carried out in 2013 by Kerr et al found mindfulness increased activity in the area of the brain associated with positive emotion, known as the pre-frontal cortex.
Meditation then, seems to be a good way to regulate the activity in our brain so that we can gain better control of our emotions. This is one way we can achieve mental wellness.
There are numerous forms of meditation to practice too. Below is an explanation of 3 types which you may find beneficial.
Mindfulness is the process of being aware of your thoughts and feelings and letting them pass without judgement. This can be done for a set period of time per day like a regular meditation, or it can be done as you go about your daily activities. The key is to focus on what is happening in the present moment.
Loving kindness meditation derives from the Buddhist tradition but needn’t hold any religious or spiritual significance. The meditation involves cultivating a state of love for yourself and then moves on to cultivating a state of love for your family, friends and eventually all living creatures.
Kundalini meditation involves a little more spiritual significance with the purpose of this practice being to awaken the spiritual life force within us. The meditation involves a combination of hand and body postures as well as mantras.
Whilst health is certainly a hot topic in society our overall wellbeing begins with looking after ourselves completely. That means we need to take the time to nurture and look after our mind in addition to our body. Meditation, as well as the other ideas that we have explored in parts 1 and 2, is the perfect way to do this. Try adding the practice to your routine for just 10 minutes a day for a few weeks and you’ll see the benefits for yourself!
photo credit: egizu <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/57416672@N00/29438001551″>Woman practicing yoga on the beach</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>
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