You’ve probably been hearing about meditation a lot lately! From CEOs to the mom down the block who does a lot of yoga, meditation is in our conversations and on our minds. You don’t have to be a Sadhu, renouncing earthly pursuits and sitting in a cave all day with your eyes closed, to have an effective meditation practice. While ultimate spiritual enlightenment might be the goal for some, for most of us, 10 minutes a day is a good start to receive the following benefits:
1. Reversing The Nervous System’s Response
Our nervous systems have two modes: sympathetic, which is our fight or flight response; and parasympathetic, which is our relaxation response. Everything we do activates one or the other of these systems, so most of the time we live somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. Modern life brings a lot of additional stressors, however, and those stressors bring us higher and higher into fight or flight mode: loud noises, emails and texts demanding our attention around the clock, and the blue light of our screens all stimulate our sympathetic nervous system. The more it’s stimulated, the more it reacts- it’s an almost exponential effect.
Here’s where meditation comes to the rescue. When you can spend time each day removing all the extra stimuli from provoking your stress response, your nervous system begins to recalibrate.
The soothing response kicks in, and with practice you will be able to handle stress without your fight or flight response reacting as dramatically to it.
2. Healthy Hearts
Meditation can lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
The fight or flight response causes our bodies to release stress hormones that break down stored fats and turn them into easy-to-use energy via fatty acids in our blood. In theory, this is helpful… if it’s 10,000 BC and what’s making you stressed is seeing a lion that you need to run away from.
In modern life, our stressors aren’t always so physically demanding; the fatty acids that get released (and then not used right away) build up in our blood. It can narrow the arteries and lead to high blood pressure, clotting, etc.
By learning to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, some of that cardiovascular damage can be both prevented and healed. Meditate for your heart’s sake!
3. Ditching Unhealthy Habits
Learning the skill of meditation is a way of retraining your thoughts. If addictive behavior is something you struggle with, for example, learning to find the pause between an impulsive thought (“Hmm, it’s time for a cigarette”) and an ensuing action (lighting up) can help you start to make that pause between thought and action longer and longer. With patience and practice, you might find that the pause eventually becomes permanent. Hello, fresh air!
Keep in mind that meditation is a practice. It takes time and consistent effort to make change. It’s normal to get frustrated. It’s normal to sometimes not want to do it. It’s even normal to briefly set it aside once in a while, but your practice will always be there to welcome you with open arms again.
Head Of Yoga for Performance Lab