Hi! I'm Sylvia, a former researcher and scientist who now teaches yoga and meditation, and has a love for candles and essential oils. For those of you who know me, know that the last 5 years have seen a huge change in my life! For years, I struggled with stress, anxiety, and depression. I am now very happy to share that I am free of these as diagnosed illnesses*. And, I am here to share with you what I've learned along the way :) Let's talk about meditation... (don't worry, there's no pseudo science here! I promise... only real scientific research explained simply).
If you can think a thought and breathe, you can meditate! It can take as little as 5-10 minutes a day.
And, everyone can benefit from this practice.
Meditation can be defined as the progressive settling down of the mind into a field of silence (the space between thoughts). Spiritually speaking, the purpose of meditation is to reconnect us with our true essential nature; it is a journey of expanded mental awareness and spiritual development. That being said, along this journey of meditation we may experience practical benefits that may help us walk more calmly and joyfully through life.
When we come into a deep, meditative state, our body has the ability to move toward a balanced state (it's called homeostasis), where the hormones related to stress are reduced, toxins are cleared by the body, and we enter a restful state that can recharge our minds and bodies.
Here are 3 reasons why you should start meditating today (scroll to the bottom if you'd like a simple 'how-to' guide to staring your meditation journey):
1. Reduce Stress
The psychological response to stress is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which controls our heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion, for example. When the part of the nervous system associated with the stress response (sympathetic nervous system), sometimes called the “fight or flight” response is activated, hormones like adrenalin and cortisol are released into our bodies which in turn increases our heart rate, blood pressure, and slows digestion. Acute stress means that once the stressor has passed, the balance between "fight or flight" (sympathetic) and the calming part of the nervous system, sometimes called "rest and digest" (parasympathetic nervous system) restores. But! In our modern, busy lives, stress can often hang around (become chronic). When we experience chronic stress, the body will continue to produce stress hormones, and the system's natural and balanced feedback loop is interrupted, which often leads to that on-going feeling of stress and other negative health impacts caused by inflammation in the body associated with stress.
Meditation helps balance our parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems by increasing parasympathetic activity (see 1, 2), therefore decreasing the stress response in our systems. Over time, this can help bring our system back to its natural and balanced state. Research has found that long-term meditators had a reduced stress response and inflammatory response to psychological and chemical stressors (see 3). In fact, studies have shown that even by simply lengthening the breath to about 5 seconds per inhale and 5 seconds per exhale, for 5 minutes, we can begin to balance our nervous system, thus feeling calmer in minutes!
2. More Restful Sleep
Often times when we feel restless at night time or experience insomnia, this is a result of a external stimulation for the brain (such as a busy or stressful day, using social media or working late at night) or worries and stressors in life that we can't seem to shake when we get into bed. When we meditate, we are entering a more restful state, which may help us wind down in the evening before sleep. Research shows that not only do various techniques of meditation increase our sleep quality by enhancing slow wave sleep, meditation helps increase parasympathetic dominance (as mentioned above, this is the calming part of our autonomic nervous system) which helps us maintain deep, quality sleep, and stimulate melatonin (amongst other sleep aiding hormone) production (see 4).
3. Slow the Ageing Process
A possible measure for ageing, at a cellular level, is the length of telomeres in the body (telomeres are the DNA and protein caps that protect the ends of each chromosome during cell division). Shorter telomeres are related to the onset of many age related diseases. Not only has research shown that an acceleration in the shortening of telomere length has been linked to chronic stress, meditation may have salutary effects on telomere length by reducing stress, and increasing hormonal factors which promote telomere maintenance (see 5). So, just as you've been reading above, meditation helps us manage chronic stress, by balancing our nervous system. In turn, we may be able to slow the ageing process, and minimise our chances of getting diseases related to ageing.
How To Meditate:
The research referenced above studied the effects of various types of meditation including: mindfulness meditation and mantra/transcendental meditation (this is simply repeating a word, phrase or mantra silently in your mind during meditation).
Jon Kabat-Zinn created a commonly used definition for mindfulness, “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally” (see 6). Other concepts often related to mindfulness meditation are, for example, curiosity, acceptance, and compassion (see 7). Follow these simple instructions to practice:
sit in a comfortable, upright position,
closed eyes or soft gaze,
bring your attention to a pre-determined object, usually the breath. Notice the sensation of your breath as your inhale and exhale,
- as soon as your attention drifts (to thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, sounds – let's call them “distractions”), observe the distraction and bring your attention back to the breath without judgement of the distraction,
- practice for 5 - 10 minutes one or two times a day.
The goal of mindfulness meditation is not to ignore distractions or stop thinking, rather it is to simply observe whatever is happening with full attention, with curiosity and without judgement. And, to come back to the present moment using the breath whenever we are caught by a distraction.
If you would like, feel free to add a mantra, word or phrase to your meditation. For example, on the in breath, silently say to yourself “I am breathing in” and on the out breath, silently say in your mind, “I am breathing out”. This can help keep our attention in the present moment and away from distractions.
Oh btw.... If you have any comments or questions about meditation, I'd love to hear from you! Simply send me a message, email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or comment below!
PS: Did you know that I have formulated a candle to help deepen you meditation practice. It's candle “OM”, and it's packed full of essential oils like frankincense, myrhh, cedarwood and sandalwood. Click here to purchase and enter code “FREESHIPAUG” for free shipping until the end of August.
* If you're suffering from stress or mental health challenges please see your trusted medical practitioner. All information in this email is meant as a guide and does not replace medical advice.
Wu S. D., Lo P. C. (2008). Inward-attention meditation increases parasympathetic activity: a study based on heart rate variability. Biomed. Res. 29, 245–25010.2220/biomedres.29.245
Zeidan F., Johnson S. K., Gordon N. S., Goolkasian P. (2010). Effects of brief and sham mindfulness meditation on mood and cardiovascular variables. J. Altern. Complement. Med. 16, 867–87310.1089/acm.2009.0321
Rosenkranz, M., et. al. (2016). Reduced stress and inflammatory responsiveness in experienced meditators compated to a mathced healthy control group. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2016;68:117-125. https://www.psyneuen-journal.com/article/S0306-4530(16)30043-9/abstract
Sulekha S., Thennarasu K., Vedamurthachar A., Raju T. R., Kutty B. M. (2006). Evaluation of sleep architecture in practitioners of Sudarshan Kriya yoga and Vipassana meditation. Sleep Biol. Rhythms 4, 207–21410.1111/j.1479-8425.2006.00233.x
Epel E, Daubenmier J, Moskowitz JT, Folkman S, Blackburn E. Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness, and telomeres. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009;1172:34–53.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3057175/
Kabat-Zinn J. Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. Hyperion; New York: 1994.
Bishop SR, Lau M, Shapiro S, et al. Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. 2004 Fal11(3):230–241.