The simple practice of meditation can have immediate short-term benefits, improving your mental, emotional and physical balance. In the longer term, it can create lasting calm and good health.
Have people ever told you, “Stop thinking so much!” If they do, you probably react by having yet another thought: “Yeah right! How?”
Human beings have been working on this for thousands of years, and the good news is there is a way. It’s not easy, but if you’re willing to try, you really can clear your mind using meditation. Even a few moments of clarity a day will do you the world of good.
The Art of Stillness
At 12WBT we talk a lot about becoming “your best self”. One aspect of this involves finding that line between pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, stretching yourself further than you ever dreamt possible, and at the same time treating yourself kindly and with compassion.
To do this we need to switch off those tapes that play in endless rotation in our minds, and instead tune in to our inner selves.
For this to happen we have to train the conscious mind to focus on something – for example, by observing the breath, using a mantra (a repeated word or sound), observing the physical body or following the voice of a meditation guide.
Think of the conscious mind as a well-trained dog – it needs something to chew on, so the subconscious mind can get to work letting go of deep-set negative and self sabotaging beliefs.
Clarity and Healing
The immediate benefit of meditation is that it wipes away the clouds of confusion and allows blue-sky clarity back into the mind.
The practice is soothing on every level. Scientific studies have shown that meditation deactivates the sympathetic nervous system (switching off the fight-or-flight arousal that kicks in when we’re stressed or anxious) and activates the parasympathetic nervous system (which looks after our relax-and-recuperate response).
When active, the parasympathetic nervous system slows down the heart rate, dilates blood vessels, activates our digestion and stores energy. This allows the body to return to a balanced state known as “homeostasis”. This is the state in which healing takes place.
What Does Meditation Feel Like?
The meditative state may be described as a state of restful awareness. You’re completely relaxed, often more deeply than when you sleep, yet still conscious.
Think of how you feel when you’re absorbed in a task: maybe doing your favourite workout or working in the garden. Afterwards you’re refreshed and invigorated. This is the feeling we’re after.
Once you enter the meditative state, conditions are perfect for the body to start to stabilise and repair itself.
The First Step
A simple Buddhist meditation technique that you might want to start with is to sit with the eyes closed and observe your breath as you inhale and exhale. It’s easiest to focus on one point, like the nostrils.
Thoughts will come up and attempt to engage you in a “story” (past or future), a “list” (to do) or a rotating “tape” (I’m not good enough/my life is awful/he or she does such-and-such to me/I can’t do this/this is stupid, etc).
The challenge of meditation is that as soon as you notice you’re thinking something, you must return to observing the breath.
Practise Makes Perfect
Even after many years, the meditative state can be elusive, so bear with yourself and remember: the instant you notice your mind has wandered from those persistent thoughts, you’ve succeeded in detaching from them.
Just a few minutes in this state is deeply beneficial, and just 20 minutes of meditation is said to be the equivalent of eight hours of sleep.
In the long term, many benefits flow from a daily meditation practice, such as growth of creativity and intelligence, sharper perception and general improvement in health.
A key benefit is a sharper intuitive sense and the ability to tune into your “gut feelings” much more easily.
If you’d like to try meditating but need a little help, a guided meditation or relaxation is the best place to start. In a guided meditation a calming voice takes you through the process of focusing the mind, allowing you to fall into a deep relaxation.
Check iTunes or YouTube for downloads, or you can buy meditation CDs. Listen in, tune out and let meditation work its magic on you.
Register your interest in the next 12 Week Body Transformation today.