Learning to train the mind through meditation for better focus, concentration and relaxation provides a host of benefits, both physical and mental. Just as we may practice a range of physical exercises to train our bodies and increase the level of difficulty as fitness improves, the same principle can be applied to meditation – start gently, increase the time and vary the practices as we become familiar with each exercise. Below we explain five of the benefits meditation will bring and how to begin practicing.
What is meditation?
Meditation is a group of exercises for the mind that are designed to improve focus, concentration and awareness. The continued practice of meditation develops mental clarity, emotional calm and stability and feelings of contentment and well-being. There are a number of different ways to train the mind with meditation – mindfulness meditation, concentration meditation and visualization meditations – while each is slightly different, all types of meditation practice induce a relaxation response in our bodies, reduce anxiety and increase feelings of well-being.
Benefits of meditation
Heart health Daily meditation practice has been shown to improve our heart health; reducing blood pressure, improving circulation and reducing Lipid peroxide in our bodies. This compound is responsible for hardening arteries and causing atherosclerosis.
Boost the immune system Meditation works in two ways to boost the immune system, firstly activating the left side anterior part of our brains which is closely linked to the control of our immune system and secondly, boosting our production of immunoglobulins and T Cells – the immune systems ‘soldiers’ that seek out and annihilate bacteria, viruses and germs that cause illness.
Boosted memory function along with boosting the parts of our brain associated with our immune system, meditation also improves the brain’s function around memory. Meditation improves our cognitive ability by strengthening the connections in our brains and as such boosts memory.
Better Sleep People who practice daily meditation for ten minutes or more enjoy better sleep. Sleep is imperative for both our mental and physical health. Lack of sleep is associated with higher levels of depression, anxiety, difficulty managing stress and changes our brain chemistry in ways that are detrimental to our physical and mental health.
Reduce stress and manage anxiety Meditation cuts the cycle of stress and anxiety by decreasing cortisol levels, blood pressure and our respiratory rate. While meditation can’t reduce the occurrence of stressful situations in our life, it does modify the way we respond and increases our resilience to manage the emotions invoked by stressful situations.
How to start meditating
To begin meditating, start with short sessions of just 3 – 5 minutes long and gradually build up the amount of time you sit meditating for to 15 – 20 minutes each day. Some guided meditations can be downloaded onto a smartphone or other device for free and can help you get started. Many will allow you to adjust the time of each meditation so you can lengthen the sessions as you become more comfortable with the practice.
You’ll need a quiet place to sit and a timer (or recorded meditation). Choose a time each day that you won’t be disturbed – early mornings are great and can set you up for a happier day. Sit comfortably and start with some deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Keep your back straight, a soft focus to your gaze, and after around five breaths, gently close your eyes. Then focus on the in and out of your breathing as it returns to normal. Don’t worry about not thinking, simply return your focus to your breath each time you notice your mind has wandered. If you find it difficult to focus on your breath, try counting them, one for in, two for out, up to the count of ten and then begin again. Carry on like this for 3 – 5 minutes and leave the focus on the breath for around 10 seconds. Let your mind do as it pleases. After this, bring your focus back to your body, the weight of it pressing down on the floor, the sounds around you and even the smells, and gently open your eyes.
Meditation is as simple as that and needn’t be difficult. Just as other skills become easier with practice, so too will meditation. The benefits of meditation are so great that it make sense to begin today.
Written by Elise Morgan
Suggested Guided Meditations: