Meditation- Another Form of Healthcare
Meditation, Health, and Stress
One of the most powerful methods of opening your health and wellness start with what is referred to as, mindfulness or meditation. Meditation seems pretty straight forward until you sit down and try to “clear your mind” and you find out, it's not so easy. We’ve all seen those images of monks with their shaved heads and orange robes sitting down with their eyes closed meditating, but this practice is starting to become more and more mainstream and widely accepted as a beneficial practice by normal people just like you. In fact, there are many clinical studies that have been extensively peer-reviewed that are showing some profound benefits from meditation on our mental and physical health. In a recent study published in Science Direct in 2021, it was found that meditation can lower blood pressure, reduce cortisol (the stress hormone), lower heart rate, as well as improve your own self image and esteem [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpnec.2021.100037]. Meditation has been around for centuries and for good reason, let's dive in and see if meditation could be right for you as well!
First off, what is meditation and what are we trying to achieve with its practice? The science of meditation demands to be able to measure something, and that something is brain waves and some hormone responses. We have what are referred to as different states of consciousness that are classified by Gamma, Beta, Alpha, Theta, and Delta waves which are measured by way of Electroencephalogram or EEG for short. During most of our day we operate in Beta which is known as the wakeful state and we think and operate our day to day tasks in this state most of the time. Alpha is when the brain relaxes a bit more and is known as passive attention where we loosen our grip on our thoughts and allow them to roam freely through our mind, alpha is the first level of meditation we are trying to achieve. Alpha state will allow for a deep relaxation and reflection of events, ideas, and memories. Gamma waves indicate intense focus and problem solving which can be very helpful while trying to meet a dead-line or conducting research. Theta waves indicate an even deeper level of relaxation and often occurs just before sleep. Many great thinkers in the world have been known to take short naps that dip into Theta state in order to solve complex problems that they are having trouble solving. Theta is where intuition plays a major role as we become more in-tune with the world around us and the external intelligence that we often relate to intuition or premonition. Delta is the sleep state and allows for not only sleep but dreams to occur. Meditation aims to reach Alpha and Theta for the most part although some that are more experienced in meditation can achieve Delta in a somewhat wakeful state.
The Science of Meditation
In the more common practice of meditation we are trying to achieve Alpha in order to “clear our mind” and find solitude to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. If you only achieve Alpha state during meditation but do this on a regular basis you will begin to see the benefits of meditation in your life. Just 10 to 20 minutes per day of this type of brain state will help improve concentration, memory, and emotional control. There are a lot of clinical studies on this portion of meditation and its benefits that have been thoroughly measured and documented so for those of you that may be thinking this is a bunch of new-age stuff that only hippies think works, science says otherwise. Cortisol levels have been shown to diminish, recall improves before and after meditation, and ability to focus for longer improves. Cortisol is our stress hormone which is needed for us to wake up in the morning and handle our daily challenges, it is necessary to a certain extent. Studies have shown that abnormally elevated cortisol levels over a long period of time can have negative health effects such as increased headaches, trouble sleeping, trouble focusing, having a harder time to recall information, and allow for disease to propagate and grow. Controlling and reducing our cortisol levels can stave off many of these negative health effects and meditation is the best, easiest, and cheapest (free) way to achieve lowered cortisol levels. This is not debated among the scientific community as many studies have found the same result of lowering cortisol levels in subjects that practice regular meditation. People have, through meditation, improved their memories, concentration, sleep quality, and health with great success and serves as a good reason to spread the word on the many benefits of meditation as well as adopt it into our daily routine.
How to Meditate
Now that we know why meditation is good for us, let's dive into how to do it properly in order to achieve these results. Meditation is to be performed in a quiet and calm place where you feel relaxed and there are limited distractions. There are many resources on guided meditation to use like Headspace, Calm, or Insight Timer and I encourage anyone that is new to the world of meditation to try these as achieving true meditation takes practice and is easier if you follow some guided meditations at first until you really get the hang of it and can more easily achieve Alpha and Theta states without guidance. Just like any other exercise you will start in a place of weakness and gain strength through ritual practice. One of the easiest ways to achieve Alpha state is to find a comfortable position, close your eyes, and imagine a horizon in front of you. Now shift your focus just above the horizon (about 20 degrees or 4 fingers above the horizon) and focus on your breath. Breathe deep and slow while counting backward from 100 to 0 in slow intervals. The eye position behind closed eyes is the important part of this exercise as it is shown to be one of the easiest ways to obtain the Alpha state. Once you get more experience you will be able to start from a lower number like 50, 25, 10, or even as low as 5 because you will have strengthened your mind into being able to change your mental state quickly. This usually takes about 3 months for most people to achieve but everyone is different and could get there quicker or longer than that.
The Many Benefits of Meditation
Meditation can increase the amount of gray matter in the brain, improve self-esteem and awareness, reduce stress, reduce insomnia, enhance memory and information recall, decrease anxiety, reduce burn-out, lower blood pressure, and ease depression. Many people have used meditation to overcome addiction by changing how the brain experiences pleasure. Some have reduced chronic pain or just the perception of pain in order to handle it better. Meditation could even reduce the rate of age-related memory loss! There are so many reasons to adopt a meditation practice that it is quite silly to not try meditation in your life. The people that have meditated over 60,000 hours in their life show the ability to stay in the Gamma wave state during most of their day. This gives them a mental advantage over everyone around them as they are more able to concentrate at an intense level for longer and through this advantage have strong emotional control and reduced stress. Even just a half hour of meditation per day can result in more empathy and ability to see other’s emotions easier which can enrich not only your life but those around you.
Different Techniques and Styles of Meditation
There are many different techniques for achieving the desired effects of meditation. There is mindfulness, reflection, loving kindness, focused attention, body scan, resting awareness, mantra meditation, Zen Meditation, Transcendental meditation, Yoga meditation, Tai Chi, and many more! While you are beginning your meditation journey it is important to keep it simple and regular. What I mean by “keep it simple,” is to only try one form of meditation at a time and give it at least 3 weeks of practice before trying a new type. If we overcomplicate things we tend to push them away as a way of reducing complicated and stressful things in our lives to find peace. Early in the process of adopting a new habit, overcomplicating is a sure fire way to fail at adopting the practice and resort to our simpler, not so enlightening habits forcing you to start over from the ground up.
If meditation practices sound like a great idea for you to start implementing in your life, reach out as I am a Health and Wellness Coach with extensive training on the art of coaching people to attain an optimal level of health and wellness. You can find my Contact Me page on this website and we can discuss your health, goals, and work together to optimize your life to fit your needs and health goals. On that note I hope you have found value in this article and let it lead you towards a happier and healthier lifestyle.
By Tyler VandenBosch, your Health & Wellness Coach