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What is meditation?

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Meditation is a practice where we use a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness and thereby create insight and contentment. By practicing meditation, we can achieve greater levels of clarity and more focus and attention than we naturally do in our day-to-day lives. The best way to think of meditation is as a training regime for our brain. Our brain, just like the muscles in our body, can be conditioned to be better suited to tackle the ins and outs of life. Just as going to the gym or exercising stimulates muscle growth and increases our aerobic capacity, meditation increases the functioning our of brain and makes us more resilient to the knockdowns of life. Imagine yourself competing in a running race. If you did no training and just showed up on the day of the race, it would be very difficult to do well. However, if you trained every day you would have a pretty good shot. The same thing goes for the trials of life. If we exercise our brain daily, we can be sure we were always at peak performance and when s**t hits the fan, we're more able to cope. 

 

There are hundreds of different “types” of meditation and you may have heard of some of the most common. These include mindfulness meditation, transcendental meditation, yoga nidra, vipassana meditation, guided meditations and visualisations. These types of meditation vary tremendously in their techniques and outcomes and different forms of meditative practices are associated with different patterns of brain activity. While there are many similarities and while they most commonly branch from the same evolutionary tree of “meditation” as a whole, it is often improper to group them all together and simply speak of “meditation” as referring to them all as different meditations will garner different levels of calm, insight, compassion, wisdom and impact on our mental health. Again, think of exercise and how not all “exercise” is equal in all ways. 

 

Perhaps most common of all in our western context are mindfulness meditations. These meditations focus our attention on aspects of reality that are based in the present moment, for example, our breath, bodily sensations, or our experience of awareness itself. They are essentially based on the theory that much of our experience is tied up in thoughts that are based in either the future or the past. Thoughts like, “what am I going to have for dinner” and “I shouldn’t have done it like that”. We get caught in these thought patterns and struggle to come back to the present moment, which is where life is really happening. For a lot of our lives we are actually absent, stuck inside our own minds. By practicing mindfulness we train ourselves to come back to the present, time and time again, widening our awareness as we go. Amazingly, when we do this the result is always greater understanding, acceptance, love, and the desire to relieve suffering and bring joy. 

Meditation and Mental health

For decades now (in the west), meditation has been shown to help restore mental health and well-being. Numerous scientific studies and peer-reviewed articles have been conducted and published. These studies have shown that meditation, and particularly mindfulness meditation (which is the most common study subject) has many benefits for us. These include but are not limited to:

  • Decreasing stress and anxiety

  • Alleviating depression

  • Improving sleep quality

  • Improving focus and lengthening our attention span

  • Improving memory

  • Improving executive function and cognition

  • Meditating impulse control

  • Building emotional resilience and promoting emotional health

  • Cultivating kindness and compassion

  • Enhancing self awareness

  • Helping control addictive behaviours

  • Helping control physical pain

  • Allowing and encouraging neuroplasticity

  • Delaying the onset and reducing the impacts of alsheizmers and dementia

  • Healing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

In many respects, meditation really can be a silver bullet to help with so many mental health challenges. It does this by helping us to integrate the different parts of our brain, with these discrepancies in the stories that we hold in different areas of our brain being the source of so much suffering. The only catch is that it's not as fast as a bullet and you've got to stick at it to reap the benefits. 

Still not sure or want to find out more? Book a free 10 minute consultation today

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