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The Scientific Evidence for Meditation Will Make You Want to Try it!

Updated: Apr 30




 

I’m on a meditation vibe at the moment, because I am finding it so helpful since I started doing a daily practice in January.  I also recently did another 10-day silent meditation retreat so all of this meditation stuff is on my mind– I’ll blog about the 10-day experience some other time…a very interesting experience, for sure!

 

 We have on average 70,000 thought a day, which is pretty incredible really. Meditation tends to reduce the mind stories quite a lot… allowing you to operate more in the present moment. Wouldn’t it be nice to be free of your talking and thinking mind sometimes? The one that visits the future with stories, the past with replaying memories, the one that makes it very hard for us to stay in the present. With regular practice, meditation begins to makes you aware of the subconscious impulses (genetic and environmental) that govern your behaviours, so that you can make changes that improve your life.

 But, guess what? It has incredible benefits for your body too.


Now, even if you think, no way, meditation is not for me ( and that’s fair enough ), I invite you to read on and find out a little bit more….just in case you ever need it in the future when the going gets rough. It’s a good tool to have in your kitbag….just in case!


The Scientific Evidence for meditation

I started looking up the scientific evidence for meditation this week, just to see the latest out there as I hadn’t investigated it in a few years. Well, to say I was gob-smacked is putting in mildly: the evidence in favour of a regular mediation practice is insanely strong. If a pill did all of this, we’d all be on it since birth.

 A regular practice over 8 weeks or so has shown the following:

-        reduced blood pressure, resting heart rate and resting respiratory rate

-        improved heart-rate variability, an indicator of heart health

-        In people with heart disease, reduced occurrence of heart attacks and stroke - one 5 year study showed a reduction of 45% ! (That thud is me falling over from astonishment)

-        Reduced anxiety and symptoms of anxiety-related conditions e.g.eating disorders

-        Improved sleep, improved subjective well-being, and spiritual well-being

-        Improvement in mild to moderate depression

-        Reduced fatigue in chronic fatigue states

-        Reduced symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and eczema ( both conditions with a known anxiety component)

-        Improvements for those with chronic low back pain and chronic neck pain

-        In rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, reduced pain and inflammatory markers in the blood tests

Like, Wow!

 

Changes in Blood tests and brain imaging:

Not only that but there are serious changes in blood tests and MRIs after a regular bout of practice: blood tests indicate improved immune responses, increased activity of anti-cancer cells, reduced stress hormones, reduced inflammatory chemicals. MRIs of brains after a daily practice show increased density in the hippocampus ( memory and cognitive function) as well as in areas associated with compassion and regulation of emotion. In people with early signs of dementia,  improvements in the grey matter ( the stuff that reduces with age and dementia) on MRI.

 

 

Now, if ever there was evidence for a mind-body connection, this is it. Not in mambo-jambo, hocus-pocus terms but in pure scientific responses of the body to mind-training. Learning to switch off your thinking mind, switches on your parasympathetic nervous system and allows your body to heal and rest. It gives your system a break from the fight-or-flight mode that we spend most of our time in. And it makes sense really: if physical exercise makes our mind feel good, why shouldn’t mind-exercise make the body feel good. 

 

We All Need a non-physical Plan B

And yes, I know, when you want to relax your mind you go golfing/gardening/meeting friends blablabla.

That’s great, but you need a plan B for when you are sick/injured or if it is 3 o’ clock in the morning and your mind is racing. You have no idea how many times someone comes into me with a running injury, and because their method of stress reduction (running) has been removed, their whole life falls apart. WE ALL NEED A PLAN B! ( I need to stop shouting!! Ha!) And yes, meditation is hard…but so what? So is physical exercise, like, ehm….just get over it.


Getting started: 

So the trick with meditation, in my opinion, is

·        try a few different types to see what might suit you best

·        keep your expectations low, Rome wasn’t built in a day

·        don’t expect to be ‘good’ at it straight away – even people meditating for years have rotten frustrating sessions, it’s not about being good at it. You still get benefit from so-called bad sessions.

·         keep showing up: commit to 5 minutes for 2 weeks to start and just see if you can notice a benefit

·        You are no different to anyone else, why would it be good for others and not for you.


Different Methods to try: 

Here are some of the methods I have tried in the past that are worth exploring. Depending on your personality or mood, some may suit you more than others.

1)     Breath-based meditations: There are all kinds of breathing meditations, where you focus your attention on aspects of the breath and see if you can keep your concentration of a minute, then 2, then 5, 10, 20. Google it.

2)     Heart-based meditations: can be good for people who are hard on themselves. The WooWoo explanation is that some people ( I include myself) often have closed hearts for the sake of self-protection, and these practices open them. The non-WooWoo explanation is that they can settle your brain-waves, stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system and just FEEL good.

3)     Body-based meditation: Placing attention on different parts of the body and just sensing the sensations within. In victims if trauma or people who live in their heads a lot, the body can feel anonymous i.e. you feel nothing ( except maybe pain) and it takes times to get a sense of background sensations. Or you might feel a lot in one area ( your bad back) and nothing in your shoulder or head, for example – very telling. Somatics is related to this a bit, but that’s for another day. Body scanning techniques are central to Goenka Vipassana retreats ( a Burmese/Indian traditional meditation technique popular with backpackers in Asia and not for the faint-hearted!)

4)     Watching your thoughts, yes, all 70,000 of them! Just sit, watch your thoughts and try not to run off in a story with them. I find this one hard, but some people like it.

5)     Concentrate on sounds: Listen to the soundscape: every single sound you hear, then the next one, then the next one. Trying not to run off into a story with them. Just for 1 minute, then 2, then 5,10,15,20. Listen for the silence behind the sounds!! I love sound meditations but not everyone does, especially if you have a more visual brain.

6)     What some call yin-meditation: Just sit back and be aware of sounds, thoughts, sensations, breath from moment to moment. This is fab, but works better for me when I have already quietened my mind with another technique.

 

 

So those are some ideas, google them, go on YouTube, try a few out and don’t give up with your first ‘bad’ session…ahem…….you're normal. And guess what, you don’t need to sit in lotus position to meditate. You can do sitting meditation, standing meditation, walking meditation, lying meditation.....although you might be tempted to sleep if you lie, so not always the best unless you have an injury.

 

I’ll do another blog on my experience in the 10 day retreat: it’s a very interesting process…but that’s for another day.

 Best of luck trying some of these out.

 Sinead X



 

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