Health: Life Hacks – Meditation
We spend a lot of ‘down time’ locked into social media. We tweet and Like and Google so that all information is within our grasp and all of our thoughts are broadcast. Some of us watch TV, others fire up a console; we are becoming adept as a race at ‘tuning out’, but perhaps we need to tune in a bit more.
While focusing attention may seem like a perfectly simple task – after all, your attention is now focused on these words – prolonging this skill may be more challenging. You will get bored, your mind will wander… no words I could write here will be profound enough or startling enough to hold your attention for long. Think of all those inspirational quotes on Facebook that you instantly forget!
This week’s Life Hack suggests you practice mindfulness: meditation. While many definitions abound, consider meditation simply as the ability to clear your mind and practice focusing your attention on one subject. Chances are you already have practiced meditation on some level either informally, during deep relaxation and concentration on one thing ( like the last time you sat on the beach and listened to the sound of the waves), or formally, through a method you have learned which has a set time and structure (like prayer).
For some, simply becoming aware of their breathing and clearing their mind of all other thoughts for 5 minutes is enough. Others listen to music, or join a class. The thing that strikes you after you begin to practice mindfulness is just how hard it is to clear your mind: tasks, deadlines, jobs, feeding the cat… all manner of extraneous thoughts pop up in the middle of your serene oasis of calm. Don’t think of this as being a problem, this actually gives you an opportunity to leave these thoughts aside and continue with practice, for that’s what it is: a practice. It’s not an end state, you keep doing it. Mindfulness could and should be part of your daily life, rather than an occasional event.
Psychology has long been interested in mindfulness and is still exploring the benefits of long term practice for both physical and mental health. As far back as 1975, Benson noted that daily practice of his simple mediation method lead to a number of significant benefits.
reduced tension, anxiety, irritability, and depression.
increased alertness, serenity, and concentration.
decreased blood pressure.
reduced sleep onset for insomniacs.
decreased compulsive worrying, negative thoughts, and self criticism.
strengthened sense of identity.
Current neuroimaging experiments have yielded yet more fascinating insights into the effects of meditation on the brain. Along with reduced arousal and agitation, meditation is linked to increases in compassion and understanding of others. People have successfully utilized meditation to cope with pain, trauma and loss, as well as stress and depression.
In terms of starting meditation, I recommend going to a class to learn some basic breathing techniques or, if that’s a step too far, then log onto iTunes and check out the variety of podcasts on mindfulness and meditation. Don’t be put off if the first one you find is not for you; I’ve had to trawl though a lot to find one that suits me. All that’s left then is to stick on my headphones, and tune out on the morning commute!