Helps with stress, anxiety and depression
Calms the nervous system
Helps with insomnia
Helps with pain management, including chronic pain
Helps with emotional sensitivity
Improves general health and a sense of wellbeing
Meditation is a practice of stillness, using various techniques to train the mind relax on a very deep level, and create a safe space for processing one’s thoughts and achieving inner peace and harmony, where the mind and body can synchronise and self-regulate for a greater emotional balance, mental clarity, and overall health.
On a physiological level, meditation enables the parasympathetic nervous system and breath relax the whole body and calm the often overly stimulated mind, relieving any feelings of stress or anxiety, and bringing a sense of ease.
Meditation practice can be a solo pursuit, or a focused class with a group, or can be taught in a workshop. Many healthful modalities such as Yoga, Breathwork and Forest Bathing (Shinrin Yoku) incorporate various styles of meditations into their practice, and although there isn’t a right or wrong way to meditate, it is important to find a practice that is comfortable for each individual and meets their specific needs.
There are several popular meditation practices, each requiring a different skill and mindset for best results:
Mindfulness Meditation is a combination of meditation and mindfulness, which involves being fully focused on the present moment, wholly accepting any passing thoughts, feelings, observations and sensations without judgement, and involves deep breathing, self-awareness, often accompanied by guided imagery.
Focused Meditation is a useful self-help tool for fast stress release and involves intently focusing on something in your surroundings as a way of staying in the present moment, slowing down the inner dialogue, a sensation of overwhelm. It could be an object in the room, a tree or clouds through the window, or the sounds of birdsong, while also incorporating slow rhythmic breathing pattern to bring the body into overall calm state.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a technique first introduced by an American physician Edmund Jacobson in the 1930s and involves focused tensing and relaxing of the muscles in all of the body's major muscle groups. Done part by part and generally accompanied by a guided meditation or gentle music, it relaxes the body from head to toe, and is a useful tool for the relief of stress and anxiety. Breathing slowly and deeply, one tightens the focused muscles for 15 seconds, slowly letting go over 30 seconds. Starting with the forehead, jaw, neck and shoulders, arms and hands, buttocks, legs, feet.
Visualisation Meditation is a combination of meditation with the technique of visualisation. While meditating, one focuses on elements such as controlled breathing or repeating a mantra. In visualisation, the focus is on our minds’ imagination, conjuring up desired visual images and sensory experiences. The combination of the two practices is a very powerful way to overcome life’s many challenges, whether health related or the desire to achieve goals.
Mantra Meditation - Mantra comes from a Sanskrit term: “man” meaning “mind” and “tra”meaning “release.” Mantra is a personal word or a phrase that is repeated during meditation practice and is a useful tool to help ease a busy mind, especially if having trouble focusing or getting into the right frame of mind. Choosing a word that resonates with you and makes you happy can be whispered, repeated aloud or hummed, and research shows mantra meditation enhances overall health due to the stimulation of the Vagus Nerve, lowering blood pressure and reducing stress and anxiety.
Loving Kindness Meditation is a soothing way to practice the four qualities of love – friendliness (Metta), appreciation and joy (Mudita), compassion (Karuna), and equanimity (Upekkha), with no expectations or bindings such as needing to accomplish a goal or prove a point; it is merely a process to experience and enjoy. With loving kindness meditation comes self-compassion, increased focus and attention, and a deep sense of emotional strength that balance our thoughts and actions. Neuro-imaging studies revealed that loving-kindness meditation increases the immune function, and helps to regulate the functioning of the limbic system (processing emotions and empathy), down-regulating any stress and anxiety.
Transcendental Meditation is a very simple, natural and effortless way of letting the mind settle into an extremely calm and relaxed state, and involves the use of carefully personalised, silent mantra while sitting with the eyes closed. This can only be learnt from a certified TM teacher in a one-on-one seven-step course and thereafter practiced 20 minutes twice per day. TM is among the most widely researched meditation techniques with hundreds of published research studies. Its aim is to transcend beyond all thoughts to a state of complete calm and stillness, and is proven to have a positive impact on regulating blood pressure, immune system, digestion and sleep patterns.
Historians and archaeologists date the practice of meditation to early 5,000 BC in ancient Egypt and China, as well as in Hinduism, Judaism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism.
The global spread of this introspective practice with religious inclinations began along the Silk Road approximately 600 BC, and spread widely throughout Asia. At each new destination, it would evolve, being adapted to fit into the local culture. It wasn’t until the 20th century however, that Meditation moved beyond the realm of religion, and investigated for its’ health benefits.
Focused study began in the 1960s, and in 1967, Harvard Medical School professor Dr.Herbert Benson discovered that meditators used 17% less oxygen, lowered their heart rates and produced increased brain waves which helped them with sleep. He published The Relaxation Response and founded the Mind/Body Medical Institute, continuing to pioneer in the research of meditation. “All I’ve done,” he exclaimed to reporters, “is put a biological explanation on techniques that people have been utilising for thousands of years.”
In 1996, Deepak Chopra’s book Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, became a sensation around the world, with more and more people embracing this ancient modality.
More recent studies confirm that meditation’s health benefits may slow or reverse neuro-degeneration, manage stress and reduce pain.