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Meditation is an ancient practice designed to establish a sense of calm, peace and balance in our life. There are many techniques and no real right or wrong way to practice, but the most common forms of meditation will often include breathing exercises and repetitive mantras to help direct focus to physical, emotional and spiritual presence. Many of us (particularly at Optim!) also find slow steady state exercise can be a great form of meditation.

Recently meditation has experienced a surge in popularity as many of us are taking a more holistic approach to well-being. From smartphone apps, to wellness retreats, the accessibility of meditation practices has expanded considerably – good news for us all!

There’s also a growing trend towards including meditation in various areas of life beyond our homes and gyms, including workplaces, schools, and healthcare settings. As society becomes increasingly aware of the importance of mental health, meditation is becoming an increasingly accepted tool for cultivating resilience, reducing stress, and enhancing overall well-being – and the science supports this.

How can I benefit from meditation?

Meditation could be just the solution you are looking for to relieve stress. The benefits of meditation are significant, including emotional, mental and physical enhancements. Research has shown that incorporating meditation into everyday life can decrease anxiety and tension, as well as improve your overall well being. Blood pressure and heart rate can be reduced, as well as chronic pain and fatigue (Dossett). Meditation can support a healthy lifestyle by minimising negative emotions and expanding inner peace and awareness.

Here are a few of the key benefits, supported by research:

Stress Reduction: Meditation practices have consistently shown to reduce perceived stress levels (Pascoe et al., 2017).

Anxiety Management: Various forms of meditation have been effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety (Hofmann et al., 2016).

Improved Sleep Quality: Meditation practices, particularly mindfulness-based interventions, have been associated with improved sleep quality and reduced insomnia symptoms (Gong et al., 2020).

Enhanced Cognitive Function: Regular meditation practice is linked to improvements in attention, concentration and memory (Goyal et al., 2014).

Pain Management: Mindfulness-based interventions have demonstrated effectiveness in reducing chronic pain and improving pain tolerance (Hilton et al., 2017).

Reduced Symptoms of Depression: Mindfulness-based interventions and other meditation practices are associated with reductions in symptoms of depression and improvements in mood regulation (Goldberg et al., 2018).

Improved Overall Well-being: Regular meditation practice fosters greater subjective well-being, life satisfaction, and a sense of purpose or meaning in life (Pascoe et al., 2017).

How to meditate

While numerous types and variations of meditation exist, these are three of the more popular types that can be incorporated into busy schedules.

Mindfulness meditation: rooted in Buddhist teachings and also widely practised and studied in the West. It involves observing thoughts without judgement or engagement, often focusing on breath or an object while noticing bodily sensations. This self-guided practice is suitable for individuals without a teacher, offering a pathway to enhanced awareness and concentration. This form of mediation is commonly supported by mindfulness apps.

Focused meditation: involves concentrating on one of the five senses, either internal or external. Examples include focusing on breath, counting mala beads, listening to a gong, staring at a candle flame, counting breaths, or moon gazing. While simple in concept, beginners may struggle to maintain focus initially. However, the practice encourages returning to focus when the mind wanders, making it suitable for those seeking to improve attention and concentration skills.

Movement meditation: encompasses activities beyond yoga, such as walking, gardening, qi gong, tai chi, and other gentle movements. It’s an active meditation form that fosters a deeper connection with the body and the present moment. Ideal for individuals who seek peace through action and aim to cultivate body awareness.

Meditation offers a valuable tool for cultivating mental and physical resilience. It’s accessible to almost everybody and can provide a calming pathway to peace, and balance amidst life’s challenges. If you’re looking to get started, a simple, short guided mediation on youtube is a great place to begin.

Sources and further reading

Dossett, M. L., Fricchione, G. L., & Benson, H. (2020). A New Era for Mind–Body Medicine. New England Journal of Medicine, 382(15), 1390–1391. 

Gong, H., Ni, C. X., Liu, Y. Z., Zhang, Y., Su, W. J., Lian, Y. J., W. Peng., & Wu, H. J. (2020). Mindfulness meditation for insomnia: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 135, 110158.

Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E. M., Gould, N. F., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., Berger, Z., Sleicher, D., Maron, D., Shihab, H., Linn, S., Saha, S., Bass, E., Haythornthwaite, J., & Ranasinghe, P. D. (2014). Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(3), 357-368.

Gu, J., Strauss, C., Bond, R., & Cavanagh, K. (2015). How do mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction improve mental health and wellbeing? A systematic review and meta-analysis of mediation studies. Clinical Psychology Review, 37, 1-12.

Goldberg, S. B., Tucker, R. P., Greene, P. A., Davidson, R. J., Wampold, B. E., Kearney, D. J., & Simpson, T. L. (2018). Mindfulness-based interventions for psychiatric disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 59, 52-6

Hilton, L., Hempel, S., Ewing, B. A., Apaydin, E., Xenakis, L., Newberry, S., Colaiaco, B., Ruelaz Maher, A., Shanman, R., Sorbero, E., & Maglione, M. A. (2017). Mindfulness meditation for chronic pain: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 51(2), 199-213.

Hofmann, S. G., Andreoli, G., Carpenter, J. K., & Curtiss, J. (2016). Effect of Hatha Yoga on anxiety: A meta-analysis. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 43, 24-32.

Pascoe, M. C., Thompson, D. R., & Ski, C. F. (2017). Yoga, mindfulness-based stress reduction and stress-related physiological measures: A meta-analysis. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 86, 152-168

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