For the past year I’ve had a little secret weapon in my back pocket. Something that is helping me keep my cool, get better sleep, handle stress and boost my mood. What if I told you you could have it too? Even better, it would only take 1% of your day…
I’m talking about meditation. For just over a year now I’ve been getting to grips with meditation and trying to make it part of my daily routine and I’m not joking when I say it has changed my life.
Now, if you think it’s not for you then I don’t blame you, I wasn’t sure either – and I’ve got some pretty ‘hippy’ tendencies, but meditation isn’t like that for everyone (or doesn’t have to be). It’s not about sitting cross-legged in your tie-dye harem pants and chanting – it can be if that’s your jam (and I kinda love that) and traditionally it is a spiritual practice – but for me it’s a cushion on the floor, sitting up in bed or on my sofa. It’s also not about ‘clearing your mind’ but instead, focusing your attention. It’s becoming present instead of thinking of what has just happened (the past) or what’s going to happen (the future).
I started to take meditation more seriously after looking into the research a bit deeper. Meditation hasn’t always been taken as seriously as diet and exercise but times are a changing. Here are a few things research is showing meditation has an effect on;
reducing chronic inflammatory conditions linked to physiological stress (and we now know inflammation is at the root of SO MANY diseases and illnesses) (1)
improving memory, attention and motiviation (2)
improving sleep (3)
improving mood and symptoms of depression (4)
increase productivity / learning (5)
modulating pain perception (6)
On top of this, observations of the brain when using meditation have shown exciting and promising results – In particular in the amygdala (our ‘reptile brain’, responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory) and pre-frontal cortex (associated with planning, cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and social behavior). Meditation ‘re-wires’ your brain to be more effective and effecient. It actually causes physical changes in the gray and white matter! And it doesn’t stop in the brain – the knock on effect throughout your body is fascinating. Meditiation practice has been studied as a way of supporting the immune system (various cancers) (7,8), chronic back pain (9), eating disorders (10), high blood pressure (11) , fibromyalgia (12), insulin resistance (13), psorsiarsis (14) – all with positive effects
How to meditate
Now I’m not going to pretend after a year of daily meds I’m some guru-expert. I’d tried for ages to have a go at meditating on my own but always found it difficult and pretty frustrating. So for me, using guided meditation was and still is, key. I started with the Headspace App – I enjoyed the animations that actually taught me how to meditate. Then after listening to a podcast with the founder of Calm App, I did the old switcheroo. A massive plus here was that Calm offer FREE membership to teachers in order to get meditation practice into the classroom. I loved using meditation with the kids when I was still working in schools and found it super beneficial. Moreover I really enjoy the Calm apps ‘Daily Calm’ – a 10 minute guided mediation always with a great theme that truly enriches your day (and the Sleep Stories make me snooze like a baby)
So what happens,
Say you’re sitting and you’re meditating for 15 minutes, you’ll have a shed load of thoughts bombarding your brain. You’ll have physical sensations niggling away – your back might tingle, your neck might ache, your tummy might rumble. You’ll hear traffic noises outside or the next door neighbours washing machine.
You become aware of these sensations, but the idea of meditation is that despite these thoughts and feelings, you bring your attention back to your practice.
So rather than going down the rabbit hole of a thought like “oh I must reply to that WhatApp message about lunch on saturday” – instead of hopping to the next thought of “maybe we should do brunch instead of lunch…” as soon as you become aware that you’re thinking (in this case of the future) you bring your focus back to the present, to your breathing or whatever the mediation technique is your using that day. This is practising mindfulness, it’s training your brain, your focus and attention. You workout your body right? Why not your brain too.
Our world is full of constant distractions, communication, ‘busy’ lives. We are bombarded with emails, texts, social media, information, work can be 24/7, life can be overwhemling – meditation for me has been like a soothing tonic for my brain and body.
So, why not try it yourself? There are no ill side-effects. It doesn’t cost money. So you have nothing to lose by just giving it a shot, and everything to gain.