It’s the time of year when we are encouraged to make New Year resolutions -particularly after we might have over-indulged during the Christmas period or have been putting off changes until now.
Personally, I think every new day is an opportunity to make positive changes and when we procrastinate its just a goal without a plan – and remains just a wish!
Wherever you are in life, if there is one thing that you can do that has so many healing benefits, that costs nothing, can be done at home, at a time of your choosing – make it time for meditation. Put the ‘Me’ into meditation and experience the great changes to health, energy, focus and functioning that it brings.
I first learnt to meditate in the early 1970’s when it had been popularised by the Beatles with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. I took the same training and practised twice a day and soon noticed increasing benefits. Following the birth of my two children I didn’t have the same luxury of time – as any mother will know! I have still maintained a shortened version and now my children have left home, I can pick up this healthy strand together with the many other things we can do for ourselves, along with good nutrition and exercise etc.
There are so many books, web sites and apps that I won’t attempt to re-invent the wheel, just bullet point the benefits to encourage you. I am not particularly advocating Transcendental Meditation because that’s what I did; it was just the only method at the time. There are lots of simple methods and I give a few pointers to these at the end of the article. So check out the benefits first – and get meditating!
- Between our two brain hemispheres is a fatty tissue called the corpus callosum through which nerves from left and right pass; thereby enabling us to have our brain function both logically and analytically, and creatively and emotionally and ‘feeds’ and nurtures these nerves. Meditation practice will help us grow a thicker corpus callosum and in turn manufacture more grey cells in the brain – increasing beneficial grey matter, and therefore greater clarity, focus, understanding, ability to listen and hear other views, improved memory, willingness to try new things, mental flexibility etc.
- Meditation provides us with a rest that is 5 times deeper than sleep – which in turn leads to better immune support, better sleep quality, better energy, clearer focus – better sex! There is real biology behind this with countless clinical studies to substantiate these claims. It’s a very powerful healing tool.
- Meditation is medicine – as much as food can be. It addresses another approach to the ‘whole person’ healing; and maintaining and thriving of all our systems in body, mind and spirit. Creating a self-healing pathway to re-balance. Orthodox drugs have their place but work by interfering with pathways to stop a symptom. Meditation can be part of our self-help to prevent illness and disease. Meditation can also help make orthodox medicine more effective when it is required.
- Meditation, done regularly helps us deal with stress. Stress in itself is not a bad thing, only when the stressful moment has passed but our bodies are still reacting as if it hadn’t. Why do we react to stress? – go back to our hunter, gatherer days when we might have to defend our lives from wild animals.
- The body does various things to make us faster, stronger, lighter, to either escape or stay and fight – first the digestive system shuts down because this is not the time to stay and eat! and floods with stomach acid, which in turn seeps into the skin so we don’t taste good to our predator – but it is also responsible for our premature ageing.
- Our bladder and bowels evacuate so we can be light on our feet to flee. Stressed people report digestive problems or regular loose motions and diarrhoea.
- Stress hormones dampen down our immune system – because why should we worry about future ill health if we may not survive this current situation and maybe get eaten?! Stressed people catch colds easily, get sore throats and chest infections, skin problems.
- Stress activates the hormones adrenalin and cortisol which are acidic in nature. When they flood the body our cells become inflamed – inflammation is the basis of a lot of our chronic diseases.
- Meditation activates our hormones, Dopamine and Serotonin which are alkaline in nature and therefore can change the pH of our body and bring it back into balance.
- So, to sum up, its not bad for us to get stressed – but its terrible for us to stay stressed. Over time, stress breaks down our body systems. Modern demands are no longer predatory attacks so if our boss shouts at us, we don’t shout back, and we don’t fight physically any more at every perceived threat – but our body will react in just the same way as it did thousands of years ago.
- Some people say exercise is their meditation – they go to the gym, run it off, box it out, and they are all good things to do but they don’t deal with past, unresolved stress, like a parents divorce when they were young, childhood bullying, bereavement. These experiences get imprinted in our cells and we have to give the body deep rest to process them and release safely. The deep rest meditation brings can help with this.
- Another important benefit is with our libido and fertility. When the ‘Me’ in us is stressed, making a new ‘Me’ doesn’t seem like a good idea and sex is not at the front of our mind. Meditation helps to get our body out of Sympathetic into Para-Sympathetic to have the energy to procreate. These two main divisions of our autonomic nervous systems function to regulate the body’s unconscious actions. The Sympathetic nervous systems primary process is to stimulate the body’s fight – flight – or – freeze response. The Parasympathetic nervous system stimulates the body to ‘feed and breed’ and then to ‘rest and digest’.
- Here’s an interesting finding. Tests have shown that when men watch a team they support (e.g. football), if the team loses their testosterone levels fall, when they win their levels go up! Might be useful to know if you are trying to conceive….
- Meditation lengthens our telomeres, which are our chromosomes on the end of our genes; these determine aging, so you are literally reversing aging to a degree. Stress ages us expeditiously. Have you noticed the rapid change on someone who has had a stressful job in a demanding role – like a Prime Minister or President? 5 years after being in office markedly contrasts between when they began work and when they have served their term.
- Meditation improves our stem cells and has the ability to ‘re-wire’ the brain. Hence connectivity improves and our ‘neuro- plasticity’ – the brain’s ability to change itself. This is a whole fascinating science in itself but holds promise for those with limited mobility following an accident or a stroke.
- I began this piece with referring to our corpus callosum, the thick membrane between the two brain hemispheres. Previously we didn’t know if it thickened anyway or meditation played a part. Now we know meditation is directly causal – it’s our bridge between our critical and creative hemispheres. Our masculine and feminine.
- The goal of meditation is not to stop our thoughts but to quietly observe them as we turn down the ‘excitability’ factor – enabling us to meet things directly and listen to others – and ourselves – to improve our focus, clarity, creativity, ability to learn, at any age. To retain knowledge and skills. To know ourselves more clearly and have direction and energy in life. To foster compassion for others and our differences. To grow younger!
- Like any new interest, meditation requires taking the time and effort to make it a daily habit – but it gets easier to just sit still and ‘be’ the more often you practice.