Meditation, it’s grown in popularity over recent years, what was once seen as a religious practice is now more mainstream and is being practiced by individuals all over the world, whether they are religious or not. So what is meditation and why do so many people and practitioners tell you that you should practice it?
Well, depending on your world view, meditation is the act of either quietening the mind or filling it. Both anecdotal and empirical research suggest that mediation has benefits in supporting positive mind space, increased productivity, and being present in your life – you know that life that just seems to pass you by? Yes, meditation can help you live each day as a new day and not just another day to get through.
Quietening the mind works by clearing your mind of all its busy thoughts and “noises”, it allows you to recognize what your mind is saying in a non-judgemental way, and accept those thoughts without attaching any meaning to them, other than “that was a thought”. Often this is used with breathwork, or the focus on one thing such as the wind/breath (Phongsuphap & Pongsupap, 2011). This is often called mindfulness and may help one to be more aware of emotional and cognitive thinking patterns (Pascoe et al., 2017).
Filling the mind works by using types of mantras, self-affirmations, religious or inspirational quotes. This is the process of sitting quietly and focusing on one aspect, and letting everything else “float away”. Mantra meditation involves saying the phrase multiple times either out loud or silently (Lynch, Prihodova, Dunne, McMahon, et al., 2018). While mantra meditation has not been well researched, the studies that have been done suggest that it may be beneficial for the general population on mental health (Lynch, Prihodova, Dunne, Carroll, et al., 2018). This may help control where you put your attention, and by using a mantra should be free from mental effort (Pascoe et al., 2017).
Contemplative prayer is another mediations type that those who practice use to attain a transcendent state – which while it sounds woo woo and spooky, is just being in a state of full relaxation in an almost out of body experience, a transcendent state is also intent of many yoga practices as well (Wahbeh, Sagher, Back, Pundhir, & Travis, 2018).
Who benefits from meditation?
Chronic pain patients (Hilton et al., 2017) – While I haven’t read any research to suggest that meditation decreases pain in chronic pain situations, the research does suggest that meditation helps you to deal with the daily ins and outs of having chronic pain, in other words, it helps you cope.
PTSD, depression (Hilton et al., 2016) – meditation has been used for PTSD and depression, mindfulness being a popular one promoted by counsellors, doctors, and naturopaths alike. By being aware of what your mind and body are telling you, it may help support you to take the actions you need to get better, such as exercise, self-love, eating healthy, communicate and talk to a therapist about what your thoughts may be trying to tell you. The link between negative self-view and a negative mind-space has been well researched and highlights the importance of cultivating a positive view of one’s self (Cleare, Gumley, & O’connor, 2019). Self-compassion techniques may be used to help cultivate this more compassionate self-view and increase wellbeing.
An interesting 9-week Compassion training study showed significant results in increased happiness, and a decrease in emotional suppression, worry, and stress (Jazaieri et al., 2018). The participants in this study involved daily meditative practice for between 15 and 30 minutes, this study did use 8 2-hour long classes and an introductory class, suggesting that continued support in your mediation practice may help guide you to where you want to be (Jazaieri et al., 2018). When completing a group workshop meditation like the one in the study, there are often phases or steps taken to support you on your journey.
Stressed people – mediation has been shown to decrease stress, this includes markers of stress such as cortisol and heart rate (Pascoe et al., 2017). Remembering that stress isn’t just working all day to come home to a messy house, its also worrying over a potential job or an essay that is due the next day. Stress comes in many shapes and forms, and can often appear as a “frog in a boiling pot” scenario, where you don’t realise when you started being stressed, you just know that you are at your wit’s end.
Your brain literally changes when you implement a long term meditative practice (Yang et al., 2019). The way you breathe changes the brains activity; also includes increased activity in subcortical and cortical structures leading to relaxation, feeling of comfort, alertness, and vigour while reducing feelings/ physiological connections of depression, anxiety and anger (Zaccaro et al., 2018) – now we see a slice of what this looks like if you’ve ever seen a baby sleep and then wake up needed to be fed. While the baby is sleeping, its little tummy goes up and down slowly and rhythmically, when it wakes up the baby’s chest starts to rise more than the tummy and its breath increases in rate. My tip – slow your breathing rate down, breathe through your nose, breathe into your belly!
As with every type of practice, meditation may have unwanted effects, these effects are often due to discovering mental or physical problems that you have not noticed before. However, studies suggest that these effects are short-lived but are found more often in long individual sessions (Cebolla, Demarzo, Martins, Soler, & Garcia-Campayo, 2017), suggesting that group meditation may be better for those wishing to devolve into their minds and are concerned about what they might find.
What does meditation have to do with Naturopathy? Other than being a tool in our toolkit, quite a lot actually. As a Naturopath, I use meditation with my clients (and myself) to bring about a sense of self-awareness, decrease stress levels, and empower my clients to see the best version of themselves.
So what are some techniques you can use?
- Breathwork: sit in a quiet room, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, focusing on the flow of your breath. Thoughts may come, but let them go and refocus on your breath.
- Mantras: mantras can be said anytime, in front of a mirror, or a seated position in a quiet room. There is an endless possibility of mantras, so choosing the one that fits your situation, such as “I am loved”, “with God, all things are possible”, etc, saying these 10-20 times out loud.
- Self-affirmations: mirror work; often a list of affirmations that helps to change your view about yourself.
- Websites such as https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/uz2255 can give you tips on different breathing techniques.
- YouTube, apps, and more. Depending on your particular circumstance, having a YouTube video you have saved and listen to each day, or an app like headspace that gives you daily reminders and takes you on a meditation journey.
With so many options available, it can seem overwhelming, however, finding a practitioner who can help is never far away. Even now, the online booking system to get your consultation with me is just here.
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Cebolla, A., Demarzo, M., Martins, P., Soler, J., & Garcia-Campayo, J. (2017). Unwanted effects: Is there a negative side of meditation? A multicentre survey. PLoS ONE, 12(9). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0183137
Cleare, S., Gumley, A., & O’connor, R. C. (2019). Self-compassion, self-forgiveness, suicidal ideation, and self-harm: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 26(5). https://doi.org/10.1002/cpp.2372
Hilton, L., Hempel, S., Ewing, B. A., Apaydin, E., Xenakis, L., Newberry, S., … Maglione, M. A. (2017). Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 51(2), 199–213. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-016-9844-2
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Lynch, J., Prihodova, L., Dunne, P. J., McMahon, G., Carroll, A., Walsh, C., & White, B. (2018). Impact of mantra meditation on health and wellbeing: A systematic review protocol. European Journal of Integrative Medicine, 18, 30–33. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eujim.2018.01.008
Pascoe, M., Jenkins, Z., Vincent’, S., Melbourne, H., Ski, C., Pascoe, M. C., … Ski, C. F. (2017). Mindfulness mediates the physiological markers of stress: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 95, 156–178. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2017.08.004
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Zaccaro, A., Piarulli, A., Laurino, M., Garbella, E., Menicucci, D., Neri, B., & Gemignani, A. (2018, September 7). How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Frontiers Media S.A. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00353