In a busy world filled with stress and anxiety, more and more people are looking to meditation and mindfulness to help them relax. But what are the benefits? And what's the difference between the two? We explore meditation.
Where meditation originated
It is widely understood that the concepts of meditation and yoga are thousands of years old. There are arguably different types of meditation, such as trance and chanting. These are both ancient rites that our ancestors would have partaken in regularly. All of these different concepts are widely associated with world religions, and the one that is most often credited with the birth of meditation is Buddhism.
According to Buddhist teachings, one can achieve an 'awakening' or 'enlightenment' by practising extensive meditation. While this was first taught well over 2,000 years ago, it is still widely practised today by people all over the world.
Meditation only really moved to Western civilisation in more recent times. Improved transportation and communication meant that the far-reaching corners of the world became more easily accessible and thus concepts such as meditation spread across the globe. Now in the present day, mindfulness is everywhere, from mindful eating to being more aware of our impact on the planet.
How meditation helps sleep
Studies show that mindfulness and meditation really do have an impact on our sleep, which is good news if you struggle to rest easy at the end of the day. Meditation can help our sleep in two ways: both physically and mentally.
One of the main causes of poor sleep is stress and psycho-related issues, causing over 70% of insomnia cases - this is the mental factor. If you live a busy and stressful life with a hectic work-life balance and come home each day to kids running around the house, chances are your stress levels will be through the roof. On a mental level, you may well lay awake at night thinking of all the things you should have said to your boss and all the things you shouldn't have said to your kids. This is where meditation comes in. By spending some time each day allowing yourself to drift away from reality and collect your thoughts, you will not be frantically thinking about everything as you fall asleep and therefore will sleep better.
On a physical side, it is thought that as well as stress hormones being present in our body, there are also relaxation hormones which can have the opposite effect. 'The relaxation response' is a phrase that was coined by psychologist Dr Herbert Benson and goes some way to explain the way our brain signals our organs to slow down as well as our blood flow. It is thought that meditation and mindfulness can cause this reaction in our body, resulting in a much more peaceful night sleep and a much happier you!
Can meditation lower blood pressure?
If you suffer from high blood pressure, there are a surprising number of non-medical ways to lower it safely. You can do so by changing your diet and following a low-blood pressure diet like the DASH diet. Another way to lower your blood pressure is by practising meditation. Research has found that certain mindfulness techniques and meditation can reduce stress and produce significant results in lowering blood pressure in those who suffer from elevated levels.
That said, it has also been found that meditation may not be able to lower blood pressure alone, and instead is best done in conjunction with other proven methods that can reduce blood pressure levels.
Meditation vs Mindfulness
Mindfulness refers to an awareness of yourself and your surroundings. We live in a very fast-paced world and it's very easy to rush through your day and not realise what you're doing. You chug a coffee on your way to work and eat a breakfast bagel because it's quick and easy, not because it's nutritious and good for your health. Especially if you eat while scrolling through your phone or while watching television, you will not be eating mindfully. It is often the case that we say and do things without realising their true meaning and mindfulness steps in to try and put a stop to this.
By being mindful, you try to tap into what your body truly wants and needs and you listen to your inner self. Being mindful of when you're actually hungry rather than just eating because it's lunchtime is an example of mindful eating. This would also extend to stopping eating when you're full, rather than finishing what's on your plate just because it's there.
On the other hand, meditation takes more forms. You could say that mindfulness is a type of meditation. Meditation is a much more broad term and refers to trying to achieve a calmer head space and clearer thoughts. It can involve something as simple as sitting quietly in a room and being alone with your thoughts. It can also involve a practice such as yoga.
The importance of meditation and mindfulness today
We live in a world where 'lifestyle diseases' are rife and rampant, meaning that a lot of people who suffer chronic pain and are taking a lot of medication could significantly improve their health simply by changing to a healthier lifestyle. Illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity are all completely avoidable if we live a healthy lifestyle and make mindful choices.
What this means is that meditation and mindfulness are hugely important in this modern world as they can help someone to reduce stress and be more aware of what they are putting into their body, therefore avoiding a whole host of diseases that have a high mortality rate.