How it works

Aside from relaxation and relieving stress, there are many benefits to meditation. Neuroscientists are now presenting evidence to prove popular theories that meditation can improve our lives in many ways. We can all experience feelings of pressure, stress or lack of focus; practicing meditation could help to relieve these feelings. Here's how.





Focus

Some may find that when faced with a lot of pressure or a high workload, it is hard to focus the mind on one task. We often notice our thoughts wondering elsewhere and completing a job feels like an impossibility. Meditation has been shown to improve our ability to focus under pressure. Stress and pressure can reduce our ‘working memory capacity’, which is our ability to retain our thoughts and manage them. Through simple techniques, we can train our brain to be able to maintain a longer and clearer interest in a task, reduce wondering thoughts and improve our 'working memory capacity'. An effective way to improve focus is through mindful breathing techniques. By concentrating on one thing, i.e. your breathing, for upwards of ten minutes it can reduce a fuzzy mind and improve decision making. We can then transfer this skill into every day occurrences where we need to remain focused and in control of a situation, such as at work, with family and friends, or in exams. Improved focus could also lead to reduced feelings of frustration and stress (breaking this cycle).



MEDITATION TECHNIQUE

{ Try this technique when you're struggling to concentrate or experiencing racing thoughts }

1. Find a place where you can relax.

2. Close your eyes - If you leave them open, try a soft gaze.

3. Focus on the rhythm of your breath - or a calming object such as a candle flame - for a few minutes.

4. Then direct your attention to different parts of the body, one at a time. For example toes, feet, ankles. Notice the sensations.

5. If you find your mind wonders, just return your focus back to the body part.





Stress + Health


When we feel under pressure or highly emotional, we go into a state of stress. The reason we feel ‘stress’ is essentially because our brain is prompting the body to get out of danger. When we feel threatened there is a part of our brain which brings on the ‘fight or flight’ response of our nervous system. Our blood is then pumped with adrenaline, which increases our blood pressure, respiration and heart rate. The reason for this is to promptly transport oxygen through our bodies, allowing us to react quickly to a situation. However, when we feel stress, it prevents our bodies from functioning as they usually would. The body is too busy worrying about the threat that the brain is telling us is there. Stress can then alter our immune system responses and can be extremely detrimental to our health, leading to a number of nasty side effects.





So how can we prevent stress from becoming us? We have learnt that stress triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response. Practicing meditation can help to counteract this. While we are in a mindful state of meditation, we are encouraging our breathing, heart rate and blood pressure to slow back down and lower the cortisol levels in our blood. Neuroscientists have put forward studies demonstrating that through the practice of meditation we could change the 'brain's physical structure', reducing the activity in the part of the brain which triggers fear and increasing activity in the prefrontal cortex, which helps to regulate our emotions. An additional study has also shown that meditation can prevent ageing of the brain - those who practised meditation for an average of twenty years had more grey matter volume (widespread) in the brain, in comparison to non-meditators. Therefore meditation could improve our overall health and allow our minds a chance to recognise our emotions, rather than just react to them.





Relationships


Meditation can also benefit our communication and connections with others. Being mindful can allow us to give attention to our relationships and encourage us to appreciate the time we spend with friends, family or loved ones. We begin to manage our emotions in a calmer way, resulting in a different approach to conflicts. We can express our feelings more clearly, and gain a better understanding of the feelings of others, becoming more empathetic. Studies have shown that through practicing meditation, empathy towards others is increased, active listening is enhanced and therefore being able to communicate and describe feelings comes more freely. As we increase our self-insight the relationship with ourselves can also improve, leading to more self-control, acceptance, emotional control and greater overall awareness.





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