The Science of Meditation
What if I told you there was a proven, simple way to reduce stress that we all have access to?
It’s time we spoke about meditation, brought it out of the shadows and discuss it’s use in managing stress.
Meditation is a practical, simple and cheap way of reducing psychological stress.
Reducing stress is important as part of a healthy lifestyle as a way of preventing stress related diseases and psychological issues (anxiety, depression).
You can also improve cognitive function, i.e make it more likely you’ll eat veggies than ice cream later on today!
So what are the types of meditation most commonly used?
Based on the current research, these three methods are extremely popular amongst mental health professionals, yogis, professional athletes, soldiers, CEOs and anyone else looking for that mental edge.
First we have "mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR)" - the practice of observing thoughts/feelings in the 3rd person rather than experiencing them directly.
Then all the "Breathing based meditations" - the practice of breathing in a certain, focused way and keeping the thoughts on the breathing process itself.
Finally, we have "Compassion based" - the practice of generating thoughts of gratitude about oneself, others and life itself.
There are countless others, but these seemed to come up frequently as I was reading the research.
Speaking of which, here’s what the research has to say about the effectiveness of meditation on psychological stress.
“Decreases Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms in US Military Veterans” (Seppala et al., 2015)
“the sympathetic nervous system is uniquely affected by meditation, and novices may benefit emotionally from meditating after a stressor” (Borchardt & Zoccola, 2018)
More frequent meditation practice was associated with a reduction in psychological stress, improved self-rated health, but not physical pain (Rosenzweig et al., 2009)
“meditation programs can result in small to moderate reductions of multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress” (Goyal et al., 2014)
What are the typical benefits we can expect?
Meditating may simply give you the chance to be more aware of your mental health, and encourage an active role in improving it.
You may feel more emotionally stable following a stressful event.
Feeling more in control of your emotions means leading a healthy lifestyle is easier. More emotional energy to socialise, train, make healthy food decisions, sleep better etc.
How can we get started?
Sit down and practice box breathing for 10 minutes:
Go somewhere quiet. Sit comfortably and set a 10 minute timer. Breathe in whilst counting to 4 in your head. Hold your breath and count to 4 again. Breathe out whilst counting to 4, then again hold your breath (fully exhaled) for a 4 count.
In - hold - out - hold. Counting to 4 in your head each time.
2. Download the headspace app. Or find a guided meditation on YouTube.
Now this is really simple! Sit down, and simply follow along with whatever the audio asks you to do. Good if your mind wanders a lot.
Practically speaking then, meditation is only of use if you can practice it most days. Daily is best but we all miss our routine from time to time. So simply set the intention to practice daily and do your best to derive some benefits.
You could try meditating after a stressful event in your day, perhaps 10 minutes of quiet time sat in your parked car after work.
You could create a basic morning routine: make a tea/coffee, sit down and meditate, then get on with your day.
The specifics don’t seem to matter according to the research, what matters most - like all things in a healthy lifestyle - is DOING it.
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