I have written before about how the 2020 Covid lockdown had a positive impact on me, especially in terms of research into the science behind healing. (Read more) Perhaps what I haven’t shared is that a lot of my epiphanies came from deep, long sessions of meditation – somtimes for up to eight hours long.
Over the past year I have been running hour long Introduction to Meditation classes and ongoing guided meditation sessions for groups of public service workers – many of them with jobs in the emergency services. It has been well received and I find it a calming, relaxing experience myself.
Aside from this personal experience there is lots of research about the benefits of meditation. There is a growing body of evidence that consistently associates mindfulness with certain changes in the structure and function of the brain, as well as changes in behavior. This suggests that mindfulness can have a positive effect on our thoughts and feelings, including reducing fear and pain. Research concludes that mindfulness-based therapy may be useful in altering affective and cognitive processes that underlie multiple clinical issues. These findings are consistent with evidence that mindfulness meditation increases positive affect and decreases anxiety and negative affect.
A study by the National Centre for Complimentary and Integrative Health shows that meditation was as effective as prolonged exposure therapy at reducing PTSD symptoms and depression, and it was more effective than PTSD health education. The veterans who used meditation also showed improvement in mood and overall quality of life. It can also strengthen areas of your brain responsible for memory, learning, attention and self-awareness.
WHAT EXACLTY IS MEDITATION?
Many people don’t fully understand the notion of “mindfulness” or meditation. Some think it is a simply requirement to empty your mind and “think of nothing”. Others think it is just about focussing on breath. Some give up after just a few minutes as their mind wanders and they cannot “sit still”.
In fact, there are very many ways to meditate and in tuition I offer, there is an explanation and introduction to three basic categories of meditation or “brain training”: mindfulness (or focussed); transcendental meditation (TM); and compassion-based meditation. The benefits that each type of meditation has is explained and insight provided into the areas of the brain that can be improved using different techniques. Much like going to the gym, different exercises have different benefits. When considering what is right for you, it is also important to look at environmental considerations, resilience building techniques (grounding) and body position – you don’t have to sit on the floor cross legged, as some think.
There is a confusing array of “mindful apps” and Youtube meditations out there – it is near impossible to find what resonates with you. My top tips at the moment are:
· For a down to earth and slightly sweary Irishman who has amazing knowledge on the benefits of meditation try Niall Breslin, who does an excellent podcast called “Where is my Mind” (I found it on Spotify). His focus is more on mindfulness. I enjoy his hour long podcasts, more than his guided meditation, but he may work for you. He guides at a quite fast pace, which can work for over-active minds.
· Deepak Chopra’s 21 day programme also on Spotify is worth a listen. His approach combines all three types of meditation – but mostly compassion based with some TM techniques. He also speaks a lot about abundance, which may or may not resonate with you.
· If you are interested in TM – then I recommend 1 Giant Mind app as a starting point. Just a warning on TM – as it works so well, it has been monetised and you can pay up over £500 to be trained in it!
I have been practicing meditation and Qigong for over 20 years and the Covid Lockdown gave me the space and time to qualify as a Reiki practitioner and take my meditation so much further.
If you would like to take the conversation further, or you are intersted in guidance or classes, let me know. I am considering offering online guided sessions in the near future.