Types of meditation
There are a variety of methods of meditation. Most aim to shift your focus on your breathing or be mindful of the thoughts that enter your mind as you rest. By being mindful we mean observing and acknowledging the thoughts flowing into your mind and letting them pass. Some examples of meditation to explore are:
- Loving kindness
Each will have its own strengths, by allowing you to focus your attention or to become more self-aware, for example. There are many ways to start meditating including apps or free resources online.
Why does meditation work?
Meditation keeps the sympathetic nervous system under control. Normally as part of the ‘fight or flight’ response to a threat your body will release epinephrine and norepinephrine (adrenaline). This will affect your heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure making you alert and ready in response to the threat, which is good if there is truly a threat present. However, chronic activation of this system due to ongoing stress is problematic as it leads to wear and tear of the body making diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes more likely. We have chronic activation because all stressors cause the sympathetic system to work regardless of what they are - stress due to piles of work, emotional or relationship stress, all can increase epinephrine and norepinephrine. Mindfulness allows us to process and overcome our triggers for stress so they no longer have such a profound effect on us, decreasing the severity, strength and duration of the sympathetic nervous system response.
Furthermore, meditation has been found to lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is another hormone released by the adrenal glands in response to stress. This hormone functions to increase blood glucose, allows the tissues to utilise glucose more efficiently, dampens the immune system and sexual functions. Cortisol is also chronically damaging, leading to weight gain, high blood pressure and atrophy in some areas of the brain involved in memory. Meditation helps make all of these less likely.
- Decreases blood pressure. On average meditation decreases blood pressure by 5 points particularly in older adults who suffer from hypertension already
- Decreases insulin resistance. This makes the development of type 2 diabetes less likely
- Slows atherosclerosis. This reduces the risk of heart problems such as coronary heart disease and problems with the blood vessels supplying the body’s other organs.
- Decreases inflammation. This will physically help with pain and make inflammatory disorders less likely.
- Decreases risk of death from cardiovascular disease and all causes. Meditation will help you to live a longer life.
- Decreases stress. You will have more time to enjoy life and enhance your health.
- Increases mental regulation. This can range from pain, addictions, and self image to improving attention span.
- Decreases depression. Better cognitive regulation of how you process events that happen to you will make depression less likely.
- Decreases anxiety. This applies to a range of anxiety disorders from generalised anxiety to specific phobias.
- Increases sleep. When you are better rested you will have a much better mood and live life to the fullest.
Meditation offers a multitude of health benefits and will increase wellness emotionally and physically. Get into the habit of meditating every day for about 15 minutes to start. It is free, there are no side effects and a little patience with yourself goes a long way.