Breathe in……Breathe out – have you been taking a moment to re-connect during isolation? The world is embracing meditation as a way to decompress and allow the mind to focus on a single thought. Now I already hear a collective sigh and a plethora of excuses being thrown around -"I don't have time to meditate," or "I can't sit still long enough," or best one yet - "it’s boring!" Well I empathise with you because that was me not long ago......... Fast forward a few weeks and several podcasts later and here I am meditating daily (I even have my husband on board!). Now if you’re thinking this is not for me, maybe you could reconsider….. What if I told you going for a walk can be a form of meditation?
When we meditate, we’re trying to focus the mind on a particular object, thought or activity in order to train attention and awareness to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state. So think about this; how do you feel when you come back from a walk? Do you feel centred? Calmer? Re-invigorated? More awake and alert? Essentially, while you were walking you have cleared the traffic jam of thoughts circulating in your head. You have had to change your breathing pattern to meet the physiological requirements of your skeletal muscles and your senses have been heightened as you take in the scenery around you. If you were to do a guided meditation at home, this is exactly what you would be instructed to do!
So why is it so important to add meditation in to your daily practise?
Reduces stress: Meditation has been shown to lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is released when we sense danger. This is a good thing when required, however many people have a chronic cortisol overload due to constant high levels of stress. This can lead to mental health problems, blood sugar imbalances, weakened immune system and impaired mental focus and memory. One study showed that people who regularly meditate had 50% lower levels of cortisol than non-meditators!
Reduces pain: Cortisol also causes inflammation which can lead to chronic health conditions and ongoing pain. Again by lowering cortisol, we can attempt to mitigate the bodies inflammatory process.
Secondly, when looking at brain MRI scans, mediation is shown to alter certain areas of the brain and how they interact with each other. It is thought that our perception of pain is lowered when in a meditative state.
Lowers blood pressure – When we’re stressed we have high levels of cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. These stress hormones cause an increase in heart rate and also constrict blood vessels which in turn, raises blood pressure. When we meditate, these hormones are all lowered causing a drop in heart rate, dilatation of blood vessels and a lowering of blood pressure.
Better immunity: when the body is under stress, our immune system is compromised, making us more prone to illness. By lowering our body's response to stress, meditation also increases immunity.
Better emotional regulation: Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation helps enhance the sensory pathways in the brain that work to control emotion. Brain scans of those who regularly meditate show a reduction in the amygdala (the ‘fight or flight’ centre of the brain) and an increase in thickness of the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for planning, decision making, problem solving and emotional regulation. Consequently, a larger prefrontal cortex allows better memory, decision making and greater control of our emotions.
To pictorially annotate how meditation can change your brain structure, have a look at the image above. On the left is the brain pre-meditation where the red and yellow depict higher areas of metabolic activity. You can see on the right in the post meditation brain, there is no yellow or red and a lot more dark blue. This represents a significant drop in metabolic activity or “brain chatter.”
So how can you add meditation into your daily life??
We can all relate to not having enough time in life, but the crazy thing is, we actually find we have more time when we meditate because we’re more productive. I have used the example of going for a walk but why not schedule in some time (literally 5 minutes) before work? During a lunch break? Before bedtime? What about taking a shavasana at the end of a yoga practise? It doesn’t have to be long and you can use a guided meditation app like ‘headspace’ to help prompt you through your practice.
Irrespective of what you do, remember it’s not about stopping thoughts, it’s about creating space for more clarity in order to lead a happier and healthier lifestyle. Go on - give it a try!
I have added a yoga session for you to try from our highly experienced yogi Renata. I hope you enjoy her flowing class.
I’ll be back next week for another wellness blog,
Regards Kel 😊
Workout 1: Yoga
Workout 2: Strength and Flex
More about Kelly Nicholas
Kelly Nicholas holds a Health Science Degree in Paramedicine and currently works as a Paramedic for Ambulance Victoria. Kelly is also a qualified personal trainer with a Bachelor Degree in Exercise Science and has completed a specialisation in nutrition for exercise professionals. Kelly and her business partner Louise Moss, run Change it up Training - a small business specialising in training and motivating others to be the best/healthiest version of themselves.