"Mindfulness is the psychological process of purposely bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment, which one develops through the practice of meditation and through other training" - wikipedia
A lot of recovery programmes and mental health interventions now have sessions that focus on Mindfulness. It feels like it is the "in thing" to do. According to one site we have seen: "The goal of meditation is not to control your thoughts, it's to stop letting them control you."
Certainly, if you are stressed or anxious, you need to find a way to relax and not allow the situation to overwhelm you. And at this time of lockdown, where we find ourselves in unsettling times, it could be the perfect way to help us relax.
In this entry, we are not looking at how to meditate (we will do that in a different entry). Instead we are looking at why we should try it. At the end of the blog though, we do point out a few negatives brought up by professionals.
So what are the benefits?
- reduce stress: mental and physical stress can cause increased levels of the hormone Cortisol. It works with certain parts of your brain to control your mood, motivation and fear, and is best known for helping fuel your body's "fight or flight" instinct in a crisis. Too much though can cause health issues. Mediation is proven to help reduce Cortisol levels, and relieve these symptoms.
- become more self-aware; Meditation can give you time to connect with who you are. Especially at this time, where tensions are high, there is an opportunity for you to work on your relationship with yourself, and that in turn can develop stronger bonds with those around you. By becoming more self--aware, you can express your own needs and deal with challenges you may encounter.
- improve focus; Researchers at Columbia University Medical Centre claim meditating can change the structure and function of the brain through relaxation. This can reduce stress, anxiety and depression, as well as increase focus and concentration, which is fantastic for brain health overall.
- you are kinder; According to studies, people who practice meditation feel more grateful than those who do not, and this translates as kindness towards others. At this time of lockdown there is a great feeling of community and camaraderie, where we feel we must help others. I should point out that the science is not conclusive on this, but it does show people demonstrate more compassion.
- improve sleep; well, this is one for many of us. Lazza can confirm that his well-documented issues around sleep have returned. But this is quite understandable as people have financial and family health worries to deal with currently. However, repeated studies have shown that people who meditate before bed nod off faster and sleep deeper than those who do not. It also improves control of the autonomic nervous system, which reduces how easily you are awakened. It is also thought that meditation can increase the hormone levels of Melatonin - the sleep hormone.
- anyone can try it; You can do it on your own, or with others. It is free, you only need the space you are in, there are no pieces of equipment. The only thing the experts say is to allow yourself to embrace the concept, and see what happens.
Is there a downside?
It is also right that we point out that certain studies have brought up some negative aspects of mindfulness and meditation. You need to be aware of these.
Research has said that it can bring back some tough memories and feelings from the past, and these can have a profound reaction. In fact in one american study, a couple of participants ended up in hospital, and others needed counselling to overcome memories, and buried emotions, that had been brought forward.
It was also pointed out that it may not work for everyone, and if you are one of those you may feel inadequate or weak. Of course this is not so, but the individual may wonder why.
In another example, some teachers and books contend that their way of meditating is the "right way to do it", and even go as far as to dismiss as wrong other techniques and approaches. Please disregard this. There is no right or wrong - find the way that you like, and that is fine.
Finally, we would like to say that Mediation itself is not therapy. It is a personal journey that can be healing and nourishing. However, if someone is facing difficulties and seeking help, it may not offer the support you need. In that case, please visit a doctor or medical practitioner so you can be heard and understood.