Before I got into health and fitness the way I am now, I was one of those people that considered meditation a "waste of time". I mean, why would I just sit there quiet and not do anything for 15 minutes, if I could be running around ticking stuff off my to-do list?! Time is precious, after all.
But with time I realised that slowing down is actually a good thing and that it's necessary. In fact, becoming more mindful and present in the moment was a big part of my recovery journey.
It wasn't easy to start with, to say the least. For the longest time, even just five minutes of sitting and breathing was extremely difficult. It was like a crazy jungle party in my brain 24/7 and I always felt like I wasn't doing it right...
And even though I now try to meditate regularly (15 minutes a day), I feel like I've fallen a bit off the "meditation bandwagon" lately.
As if it was a call from the universe reminding me to get back onto my (imaginary) meditation cushion, I recently got an invitation from Nikki and Kevin from Centred Meditation to come by their meditation studio. Centred Meditation is a contemporary meditation studio in the heart of Sydney's CBD that offers 30min guided meditation sessions for the urban professionals to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The studio is an urban sanctuary giving your body all the cues it needs to de-stress: a relaxing atmosphere, diffused soothing scent, warm calming tea and comfortable armchairs with lots of cushions and blankets.
And so I went to meet the two and sat in awe as I listened to their inspiring stories over a cup of freshly brewed tea. Since discovering the effects of meditation on their own lives and travelling through India for an entire year, Nikki and Kevin have been determined to make meditation more accessible to everyone and to dispel the misconceptions surrounding it. I'm sure we all have that one friend that still thinks meditation is something for hippies or religious people. And most people still mistake meditation as sitting cross-legged and suppressing any thoughts, but it is anything but.
That's why I asked the two to share some scientifically proven, hard facts with you about the benefits of meditation, especially in regards to stress management, that will convince even the most skeptical of you. And now over to you two...
Society is moving at an exponential rate. We are more time-poor, over-worked, and under pressure than ever before. Stress caused by financial burdens, relationship troubles, work deadlines, and even traffic jams are having detrimental effects on our health and well-being.
In short, what is stress?
Stress is an automatic physiological response to a perceived danger. It kicks in as a survival mechanism in order to prepare our body to either fight as hard as we can or flee as fast as we can. As a result, our:
- Breathing rate increases to enhance oxygen supply to our brain;
- Heart rate and blood pressure increases to elevate blood flow to large muscle groups and vital organs;
- Fine motor skills diminish as the body’s focus is on large muscle groups;
- Non-essential functions (such as immune system and digestive system) shut down as it’s all hands on deck for immediate survival;
- Muscles tense up to protect us from injury or pain;
- Blood sugar levels heighten to give us more energy;
- Perspiration increases to cool us down and allow water to be secreted through the skin instead of the kidneys and bladder.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
The worst part is that it takes 20-60 minutes for our bodies to return back to normal once the ‘threat’ has been alleviated. That results in many hours of the day being spent in this state, which as you can imagine has all sorts of long-term health ramifications.
For example, our sleep is impacted, our memory gets impaired, our immunity is lowered, our digestion gets affected, our skin ages faster and the list goes on. Essentially, a response which is life-saving in combat becomes life-threatening in daily modern life. Indeed, research confirms that stress is a contributing factor in cancer, coronary heart diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease, Infectious diseases, Hypertension, back pain and more.
Meditation is an antidote to stress
During meditation, a particular physiological response is triggered in the body known as the relaxation response, a term coined by Dr. Herbert Benson. The relaxation response is the process of de-escalating our stress mode and inducing deep relaxation through the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.
In this state, a range of physiological reactions begin to occur:
- Breathing becomes slower and deeper
- Heart rate decreases
- Blood pressure reduces
- Slow alpha waves in the brain increase
- Digestion improves
- Stress hormones decrease
- Immune system improves
- Mental clarity heightens
- Memory enhances
- Concentration improves
- Productivity is boosted
- Muscles relax
- Calm is experienced
The benefits of meditation are cumulative
Meditation has been an area of interest for researchers since the 1950s and even more so in the last decade. There are now thousands of scientific studies which all give evidence to the countless benefits that regular meditation has on our health and well-being.
Here are some of them:
- Increased focus and attention (see here, here and here)
- Improved learning ability and memory (see here)
- Enhanced decision-making ability
- Increased productivity (see here)
- Greater creativity (see here)
- Enhanced ability to process information
- Decreased feelings of anxiety (see here and here)
- Lower tendency to worry
- Reduced anger
- Decreased stress (see here and here)
- Enhanced mood and emotional stability (see here and here)
- Improved sleep (see here)
- Higher longevity
- Improved immune function (see here and here)
- Increased happiness (see here and here)
And this list is by no means extensive. Meditation is medicine, literally. Looking at this list of studies, it's hard to believe some people actually still question whether meditation can have a positive effect on mind and body.
So, what are you waiting for? Get on that meditation cushion! And if you're in Sydney, why not join Centred Meditation at the Winter Wellness Series event on the 29th of October in Bondi? You can get your FREE ticket for that here.
P.S.: If you want to delve deeper into the topic, I recommend learning more about how meditation can actually change the brain structure. If you'd rather watch a video, how about this TED talk?