Blog Post No.6
Published on 18th September 2016 (Previously posted on 7th October 2015)
Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2015
Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: A *star* technique for enjoying your life more: Daily meditation
In this blog I am going to explain why meditation is really good for you. It’s the mental equivalent of being on a very nutritious and healthy diet.
And it’s better for our bodies than going on holiday, or going shopping –because you feel good for longer and it doesn’t reduce your bank balance!
That’s a big claim, so I’d better explain why I think it’s so good for you. In order to do that I need to get a bit technical.
But firstly, let me clarify what I mean by ‘meditation’: Sitting quietly, clearing your mind of mental chatter, and focusing your attention in the here and now by counting your breaths in and out. It’s that simple. But you can always get more guidance on how to do it by consulting our How to Meditate page.***
Mental demands on our energy
In our daily lives, here are some examples of the mental demands we face:
# Starting the day with too much to do and too little time to do it.
# If you are married: Getting the kids dressed, breakfasted and ready for school – and keeping the mobile phone on, so you can be easily contacted
# Other people’s conversations (and problems), and responding to them appropriately
# TV and radio news which always give the bad news first, relentlessly
# If you use a mobile phone: Text messages throughout the day – with good or bad news; and the ever-present threat of a bad/stressing phone call
# Emails waiting for us when we get to work
# Adverts trying to get us to buy things
# If you are a car driver: Other drivers’ behaviour on the roads
# The demands of the job when you get to work
# Your inner dialogue (mind chatter), as you prepare, respond and carry out your daily responsibilities
Have I missed anything out? Probably!
Our poor brains are deluged with information overload, and the messages don’t stop until we crawl, tired out, into bed, hoping for a decent night’s sleep.
By that time your body has got plenty of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) circulating in it, so the quality of your sleep will be affected by them. That’s the bad news.
The good news: how meditation works
What meditation does is it switches off your stress response, and switches on the relaxation response.
The stress response is a natural, human response to all the daily challenges you’ve been facing. You’ve probably heard it referred to as the ‘fight or flight response’. Your heart rate and breathing increase; your big muscles tense up to fight or run; your digestive system closes down, to conserve energy; your body/brain fills with cortisol and adrenaline, so it becomes difficult to think straight.
We’ve got 2 nervous systems in our body: the ‘sympathetic’ nervous system, which activates our ‘fight or flight’ response; and the ‘parasympathetic’ nervous system, which switches on when threats to us have passed. The parasympathetic nervous system is also called the ‘rest and digest’ or ‘relaxation’ response.
These two systems alternate with each other, to keep a balance in the body – a bit like mixer taps for hot and cold water.
Meditation gets your body’s relaxation response activated which means that the feelings of stress drain away and the ‘rest and digest’ mechanisms start to operate in your body.
So your body stops producing cortisol, and switches to the relaxation part of your autonomic nervous system. Your digestion starts working again, your big muscles relax, and mental relaxation and whole-body rest take place.
Breath-counting – recommended by the Buddha:
Begin by sitting quietly, with no external distractions. Switch off the TV or radio. Sit in a room which does not have any human activity going on. And focus your attention completely on your breathing, so that your thinking about yesterday and tomorrow close down.
Counting your breaths over and over for a period of time rests your brain and reconnects you to your body – to the regular rhythms of your breathing. And in this way your thoughts settle down, lose their power to disturb or run you ragged, and become mere thoughts which come and go, like clouds in the sky.
Meditation roots you more powerfully in the reality of your body and your current surroundings and less in the world of your thoughts.
You may quickly feel sleepy when you start meditating – this is a sign that your body needs rest and wants more sleep.
How do you do it?
You sit still, in a quiet place, and slowly start counting your breaths from 1 to 4, over and over again. It’s as simple as that. Count 1 on the in-breath; 2 on the out-breath; 3 on the in-breath; and 4 on the out-breath. And repeat. Slowly, slowly; let your rate of breathing slow down, and relax your body.
For more guidance, see our How to Meditate page.***
I suggest you try 10 minutes a day at first. Ten minutes of peace!
But as you get to feel the effects on your body I would suggest that you build up to 30 minutes a day. That will be really good for your mind and body.
You will be able to feel and experience the benefits for yourself, and may well want to go into the subject of meditation in more depth.
The Buddha recommended counting your breaths, but there are loads of different types of mediation.
Regular practice makes for successful meditation
Why meditate every day? You will only get the full benefits of meditation, and experience them for yourself, if you do it every day, because it takes time to reap the rewards, just like when you start an exercise programme.
Zig Ziglar once said: ‘People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily’.
The same applies to meditation. Daily practice will strengthen your connection to your body, slow down your mind, build up your stamina and lower your blood pressure. The resultant increase in relaxation will mean that when you experience stressful events, you will be meeting them with a more relaxed body/mind. Therefore the stress response will be less powerful and you’ll recover more quickly.
And the only time the brain rests is when we’re meditating!
The benefits of meditating:
Here is a link to a website which has listed 100 of the benefits of meditation: http://www.lotustemple.us/images/Benefits_of_Meditation.pdf
And here is a more detailed account of how to meditate which my partner, Jim Byrne and myself, wrote some time ago: our How to Meditate page.***
How come such a beneficial technique isn’t more popular?
Well, firstly, you will need to get up earlier in the morning or carve out the time in your daily life, if you want to experiment with it. And some people don’t like having to do that!
It’s not a quick fix, and some people are not very patient. Give it time to work. The benefits will be worth the effort. For examples: people have been able to give up hard drugs, cigarettes, lose weight, change their lives, start exercise routines, etc., through using this very simple technique.
It is also very useful if you have difficulty getting to sleep at night or wake up in the middle of the night, worrying about past or future events. The simple practice of breath-counting will help you get off to sleep more quickly.
That’s all for now. I hope you find this helpful.
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