How meditation can be used as a tool to improve mental health
In today’s fast-paced world, we are often in a frenzy to take care of our tangible bodies by supplementing them with nutrition and making sure to get our daily dose of exercise.
What we often forget is that the organ that essentially controls all our bodily functions is being neglected. Our brain requires just as much nourishment and care as any other organ in our body.
Ensuring that along with physical health, our mental health is looked after ultimately yields a host of benefits in the long run.
There are several ways to take care of our minds – beginning with adopting the art of mindfulness. With mindfulness, comes meditation.
Meditation is the art of slowly centering your attention and focusing on the present moment with the help of deep breathing. Admittedly, it requires a considerable amount of dedication, willpower, and time.
Even fifteen minutes of deep, controlled inhalation and exhalation every day can provide significant benefits such as decreased emotional reactions and heightened rational decisions.
Meditation has been long known to not only improve physiological functions but to also help reach a higher level of relaxation – something that is essential for all our stress-packed lives. It enhances all physiological processes, cultivates peace of mind, and ultimately paves the way to greater well-being.
There are several ways to meditate, including transcendental meditation, visualization, body scan meditation and chanting, among others. Yet, all these methods have four aspects in common:
A quiet location that you can be free of distractions
A particular posture that you are most comfortable in, such as lying down, sitting cross-legged or even pacing slowly
Something that you can concentrate and focus on – this may be words or an image of an object in your mind
Most important of all – an open mind free of judgement. This allows the process of meditation to benefit us quicker and helps the distractions float away with ease.
Let us discuss the types of meditation
Transcendental meditation is widely known around the globe. It uses a mantra or a collection of syllables as an anchor instead of breathing. People with a high level of stress often resort to this technique to provide themselves some peace of mind. It reduces mood swings and symptoms of depression as well as burnout for a considerably long period of time.
While meditating, most people have reported finding it easier to concentrate on pleasant thoughts and images, which eventually leads to a sensation of calmness. This is also known as guided meditation, and there are a host of recordings available for free on youtube. The process of visualization can essentially be broken down into how the mind processes and remembers unpleasant or negative memories and emotions. Studies have proven that guided meditation yields enhanced quality of well-being and higher self-esteem.
Body scan meditation
Body Scan meditation is carried out by bringing your attention to and focusing on different parts of your body in a sequential manner. This is best done lying down, but can also be done while sitting or walking around, preferably with your eyes closed. As a consequence, you begin to pay attention to your breathing and slowly regulate it.
Body scanning seems to be linked with the better observation of thoughts, feelings, and sensations and less intense reactions to stress.
Traditionally, this method is employed by various countries worldwide, but its origin lies in the east. Chanting or the usage of sounds that chime periodically allows the mind to centre it’s thoughts and focus.
Along with chanting, yoga is another practice that helps regulate moods and brings about strengthened control over emotions.
Often, meditation helps us to clear our minds and stabilise our thoughts – this fact helps the greatest of businessmen, entrepreneurs, actors, and even medical health professionals. It leads to better and well-rested sleep, sharper intuition, more accurate decision making, and even in some cases, improves certain cognitive and behavioural patterns.
It also helps in increasing awareness, clarity, strengthens emotional and societal connections, and induces a heightened sense of compassion. It helps sharpen our ability to focus and reduces mind-wandering.
Coupled with deep breathing, meditation introduces a higher level of oxygen into your lungs which stimulates your body’s parasympathetic response. This basically helps in reducing the heart rate, decreasing the blood pressure and muscle tension, and introduces a growing sense of ease in the body and calms the mind. Using your breath helps create an anchor of sorts to the present moment and thus aids the process of cognitive retraining.
Meditation has been proven to help cope with a host of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, mood swings, fatigue, and some bodily pains as well. It has the powerful ability to regulate and also manage negative emotions that ever so often cross our minds.
A particular study carried out involving 20 participants were exposed to stimuli that could potentially aggravate them. The stimuli included a trigger of a past event, something that scared them or angered them.
The experiment revealed that unlike those who practised deep breathing or meditated regularly, the other participants had higher blood pressure, pulse rate, profuse sweating, and increased heartbeat. The second part of the experiment asked those who do not meditate, to do so for 20 minutes. Upon being exposed to the stimuli again, they produced much lesser of a physical response.
The biology behind this is that the act of meditation trains our brain to bounce back to its original, unaffected state and thus recover much quicker when exposed to disturbing stimuli – whether it be an experience, emotion, or any other triggers.
Additionally, meditation is probably the strongest proven non-medicinal tool that can be used to combat chronic stress. Stress gives way to a host of unwanted side effects such as loss of appetite, disturbed sleep, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, muscle pain and gastrointestinal disorders, among others.
Research suggests that guided meditation can do wonders for stress. Those who meditate regularly show much better physiological responses, along with lower symptoms of stress-related hormonal imbalances.
Meditation can also help do away with the stress that is caused by “unproductive worries”. It helps distinguish between thoughts that can benefit you and thoughts that unnecessarily nag at your brain thus leading to a higher state of productivity, self-awareness, and proper utilisation of time.
Mary Jones is the co-founder & editor-in-chief at TopMyGrades, which focuses on Content Marketing Strategy for clients from the Education industry in the US, Canada & UK. Mary has conducted a series of webinars for AssignmentEssayHelp on essay writing tips. She has extensive content editing experience and has worked with MSNBC, NewsCred & Scripted. She has also authored blogs on Lifehack.org, Wn.com, Medium.com, Minds.com and many more digital publications.