Meditating for balance

Meditation can reduce psychological stress as well strengthen our immune system

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Chances are that you live in a big city with a demanding job, with requests from “customers” and bosses. Your friends and family need attention. You might stress about your health. Worse, there is this thing called the Internet that throws emails, social media notifications as well all sorts of news and trends at you. Look, new shoes to buy. Hey, look at what Trump said yesterday. Oh, new video from my favourite Youtuber. And should I go to this popular event posted on Eventbrite? I’ve had so many Facebook messages about it. Let’s open another tab to check the news!

As a result, the mind jumps from thought to thought all the time. We all treat it like a dustbin to throw in all the requests from the modern world. Every single day.

Few actually realize that this “dustbin” has a limited capacity. When you put too much, it overflows. It will impact your physical health, drive your cortisol and adrenal glands through the roof. This means symptoms of burn out, mental stress or depression years later.

Along with a good diet, rest and physical activity, meditation can help.

At its basic core, meditation is taking time off from the whirlwind of daily life. Instead of letting your mind jump from thought to thought, you practise mindfulness. Stop, close the eyes, breathe, and pay attention to what is happening now, with an open mind and without judging. And rest the mind, let all go.

When I practise meditation, I notice my heart rate drops, blood pressure falls, breathing slows and deepens, and muscles relax. This just makes you feel good all over!

Research shows that cortisol a.k.a. stress hormone decrease significantly in practitioners during meditation. It also reduces psychological stress and improves active coping efforts. This means lower depression, anxiety, anger or confusion. Long-term meditation can reverse effects of chronic stress significant for health.

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Immunology studies also demonstrate meditation improves the function and metabolism of our white blood cells, meaning better ability to fight diseases. Those practising transcendental meditation also show fewer cardiopulmonary and gastrointestinal symptoms; less emotional irritability, depression, and cognitive disorganization.

If you are looking to meditate, here are a few recommendations:

  • You don’t have to be a recluse in a remote buddhist temple to meditate. Meditation can be a few minutes in the morning or even when you run or walk in the park.
  • The easiest way to start is through a mobile app such as Breathe. It shows you a tailored meditation depending on your current mood. There are many other good mobile apps, all free and easy to use. Those who have been meditating for years will tell you it is cheating. Having a Zen master is not possible for most of us though.
  • A good alternative is go to a local yoga or meditation center. Your friends might know a few good ones. Look at the reviews and see if it fits you.
  • There are more advanced apps like Headscape which have elaborate programs and plans. This is for those who want to integrate meditation in their daily routine but lack time to go a local center.

References:

  • Christopher R.K. MacLean, Kenneth G. Walton, Stig R. Wenneberg, Debra K. Levitsky, Joseph P. Mandarino1, Rafiq Waziri, Stephen L. Hillis, Robert H. Schneider. Effects of the transcendental meditation program on adaptive mechanisms: Changes in hormone levels and responses to stress after 4 months of practice. Psychoneuroendocrinology Volume 22, Issue 4, May 1997, Pages 277–295
  • Ron Jevninga, A.F. Wilsona, J.M. Davidsona. Adrenocortical activity during meditation. Hormones and Behavior. Volume 10, Issue 1, February 1978, Pages 54–60
  • J. David Creswella, Laura E. Pacilioa, Emily K. Lindsaya, Kirk Warren Brown. Brief mindfulness meditation training alters psychological and neuroendocrine responses to social evaluative stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology Volume 44, June 2014, Pages 1–12
  •  César A. Fernandes, Yanna K.M. Nóbrega, and C. Eduardo Tosta. Pranic Meditation Affects Phagocyte Functions and Hormonal Levels of Recent Practitioners.The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. August 2012, 18(8): 761-768

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