Switching off. It is something that so many of us struggle to do, though more and more research is indicating the importance of doing just that. Research shows meditation may be where it’s at.
I was chatting with friends recently about stress, anxiety and how busy we, as a society, all are. My friend said something which really struck me; go back even 60 years, and evenings were likely spent reading a book, or stoking the fire. Now, we are surrounded by laptops, iphones, ipads an TVs, receiving snapchats, checking for insta likes, or replying to emails at all times of the day and night. If you consider just how meditative it can feel to sit and watch a fire burn, it really does bring home just how switched on we are, all the time, and how great it feels to switch off.
So what are the benefits of meditation and switching off, and why is it so important (and not just something that’s trending)?
Research shows that long term meditators have more grey matter in the insula and auditory and sensory cortex, more grey matter in the frontal cortex (which is associated with memory and decision making), along with improvements in functioning of a number of other areas in the brain.
Regular meditation has been associated with improved stress, mental health, reduction in inflammation, and improved risk of development of Alzheimers. It also may help improve symptoms of IBS.
So, what is meditation, and how do you do it?
Most capital cities have meditation courses, or some yoga studios offer meditation. If you prefer a more DIY approach, the following apps are useful:
– Calm (my personal fave)
– Smiling Mind
Future Learn conducts a free, online course for practicing mindfulness, and there is a plethora of ted talks out there as well.
Worried you aren’t great at it? Don’t be. Most people aren’t, at least to start. Think of it as exercise for your brain. You participate in physical activity to help improve your muscle and cardiovascular strength, practicing meditation is like exercise for your brain. The more you practice, the better you get.
When I first started to learn about meditation, I am not going to lie, I was very sceptical. Visions of incense and hippie pants floated in front of my eyes. But science is science, so I figured I may as well try, because if I believe it works, I will probably be able to encourage my clients to participate more effectively as well.
Do I believe it works? Yes, I do.
All you need to do is start, aiming for just a few minutes per day. Once you get better at it, it is likely you’ll find it easier to go for longer (just like with exercise!). So what is the optimal amount? There seems to be varying reports, from as little as 10 minutes per day.
Set aside that 10 minutes… thank me later.