We live in the digital age which means the world is changing faster than we can keep up with and trying to adjust to this hectic pace leads to increased levels of stress and anxiety. On top pf all this, we still have to juggle our careers, finances, relationships and family – everyday life has never been this complex.
We feel overconnected and disconnected at the same time, restless but running on empty, sometimes out of control and sometimes numb. It’s no wonder that the practice of meditation has become so popular. It’s a way for people to quiet their minds, to find some peace, rediscover what truly matters to them and regain the ability to focus on their goals.
What is Meditation?
The practice of meditation dates back thousands of years and it was originally used as a way of deepening understanding of the sacred, the metaphysical aspects of life. Nowadays it’s mostly used as a method of achieving relaxation and stress reduction. For this reason, it’s considered a type of alternative therapy.
The aim of meditating is to focus your attention and quiet down the stream of tangled and confusing thoughts which results in higher levels of emotional and physical well-being.
Meditation is sometimes confused with mindfulness which isn’t too surprising as the two concepts are related and we often hear about the practice of mindfulness meditation. But mindfulness refers to a way of being in the world, of creating small changes in the way you shift your attention and emotional responses in your everyday life.
Meditation, on the other hand, requires you to take some time out, to remove yourself from the hustle and bustle of daily life and create a silent space within.
What is Guided Meditation?
Guided meditation is usually the first step in learning how to meditate. A trainer or multimedia resources such as guided meditation music helps you direct your attention and achieve the required state of relaxation, kind of like hypnotherapy.
This allows you to learn the process through which you go into the meditative state and you can build a foundation for unguided meditation. As a beginner, it’s better to have a set of instructions you can follow so you can get used to integrating specific techniques into your routine.
1. Stress Reduction
Acute stress and chronic stress lead to increased production of cortisol which has been shown to have a negative impact on bone metabolism, muscle mass, how fat is processed and stored, the immune system (influences the production of cytokines) and certain regions of the brain responsible for memory, impulse control and decision making.
Research has found improvement in brain activity and neurological response to stressful conditions in individuals who regularly practice meditation, even when they’re not meditating. More specifically it shows a reduced response in the amygdala, the part of the brain that triggers strong emotional reactions such as anger or fear.
2. Anxiety Control
Same way as regular meditation practice increases resilience to stress through the effects it has on the amygdala, it also helps people reduce and control their anxiety levels. As you continue to meditate you get better at shifting your focus from the stimuli triggering the anxiety response. Through breathing and the increased ability to quiet your mind of the racing thoughts typical of anxiety, you will be able to calm yourself in these types of situation.
At the same time, with each event where you manage to clam yourself, your brain will get used to it and stop perceiving it as a threat, on the principles of exposure therapy.
3. Improves Confidence
With time, you will become more resilient to different challenges as you become more proficient in using meditation techniques to maintain composure in stressful or anxiety inducing situations. This translates to perceiving yourself as competent which reduces self-doubt and boosts confidence levels.
You’ll find yourself less fearful and avoidant of certain aspects of your life, you’ll have an easier time being assertive with those around you, and therefore you’ll have healthier relationships because you are able and willing to uphold your boundaries. These changes will further increase your confidence.
4. Improves Ability to Concentrate
Since mediation is all about maintaining focus and resisting distractions, it’s kind of like weight training for your brain. Studies show that consistent meditation practice results in neurological changes which increase the individual’s cognitive performance, particularly in terms of ability to stay focused.
This is particularly helpful nowadays, when the excessive use of technology seems to have had a detrimental effect on our attention spans. We wouldn’t be surprised if you had problems getting this far in the article without your mind wondering to something else or having to take a break.
5. Better Sleep
You may be one of many people who find themselves unable to fall asleep easily, and you have to lay there, staring and the ceiling and occasionally looking at the clock (usually on your phone) and calculating how many hours and minutes you’d have left to sleep if only you managed to drift off now.
Introducing meditation into your bedtime routine can help you achieve that state of relaxation conducive to falling asleep. It’s a much better option that scrolling thorough your social media feed on your phone or watching movies on your laptop because the blue light emitted by screens has been shown to delay melatonin production and alter your circadian rhythm (your internal clock that tell your body when it’s time to sleep and wake up).
6. Impulse Control
By learning and practicing how to control your focus, you’re also teaching your brain to resist distractions, making it better at holding out against impulses. This will be helpful when you’re trying to change your dietary habits, quit smoking or reducing your spending. When you feel the impulse to eat sweets, for example, you will be able to redirect your focus to something else and not deviate from the goals you set for yourself.
In case you plan on making some lifestyle changes, we recommend that you first learn how to meditate, maybe 6 months to a year before. It will be much easier to resist temptation and stay on track. If you’ve ever made New Year’s resolutions that you weren’t able to keep you know just how hard it is, meditation will be of tremendous help.