Zen out

Find a quiet and peaceful spot, make sure you’re comfortable and close your eyes. Take deep breaths – in and out, in and out – and slowly you’ll feel your muscles relaxing. Focus on a single thought, object, image or feeling.
This is meditating.

What is meditation?

While definitions vary, most point to the fact that meditation trains your brain to pay attention and be more alert, and it gives your mind and body the time it needs to relax and rejuvenate.

Part of the meditation focus is accepting the distractions around you and learning how to bring your attention back to what you’re focusing on. This helps with alertness, training your brain to deal with the interruptions of everyday life and focus.

There’s no set length of time you need to meditate, however experts agree that you will notice a difference from as little as five minutes, twice a day. If you have the time, aim for longer periods.

While meditation can work wonders for most people, it may not come as easily for some. Common problems include not being able to deal with distractions, especially noise, and a lack of change in focus after a few sessions.

It’s also important to remember that meditation is not just about taking time out during a busy day (although this is definitely an added benefit), but also about keeping you aware during the busy times.

Meditation and your health

Meditation is not just about the ‘now’, it also has long-term health benefits. Many studies show that when practised regularly, meditation can help with managing a range of health problems including anxiety, rehabilitation, insomnia, chronic pain and headaches. 

Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that more disease-fighting genes were active in people who practise relaxation methods such as yoga and meditation than in the control group. And the benefits of relaxation methods increase with regular practice. 

Meditation and its positive effect on overall health is linked to the proven negative effects that stress can have on a person’s body. Stress raises the heart rate and blood pressure, and weakens immunity. According to doctors, stress is linked to the ‘fight or flight’ phenomenon and evokes feelings of danger and strain with muscular contraction. 

In stark contrast, meditation and relaxation methods offer a state of rest and renewal. It lowers the heart rate and blood pressure, and releases positive endorphins to encourage peace of mind and repair. 

Types of meditation

While the thought of meditation conjures images of sitting cross-legged, fingertips to thumbs, hands resting on your knees with your back straight, this is not necessarily how it needs to be practiced. As long as you’re comfortable, you’re good to go.

There are many different techniques:

  • Using your breath: this involves concentrating on breathing deeply, and noticing the movement of air in and out of your body.
  • Using an object: concentrate on an object, for example, a candle lit in front of you and let your thoughts run free. Looking at one object will train your brain to concentrate on one single thing, regardless of any distractions around you.
  • Repeat a mantra: this helps to focus your thoughts on the words or phrase you’re uttering. As above, it helps with adapting your ability to concentrate with other things going on.
  • Movement: relaxation methods such as yoga or tai chi still the mind by coordinating your breath with gentle movements of your body – bringing your attention to your breathing habits.

No matter which method you use, meditation sends signals from your brain to your body to enter a state of relaxation, peacefulness and awareness, reducing the amount of stress in your body and encouraging a state of overall wellbeing.