NCPS | Why Try Meditation?

With thanks to Zoe Southcott - MNCS Accredited for writing this blog

Do you hesitate when it comes to meditation?

Here, we discuss 7 real-life benefits of incorporating meditation practice to your daily routine.

Nervous System Imbalance

Imbalance in our nervous system is responsible for a great deal of dis-ease and disease, in the form of gastro intestinal issues, high blood pressure, and emotional regulation difficulties.

When we try to regulate our moods using unhealthy or ineffective coping mechanisms in a bid to remain strong for too long, we create even more stress for ourselves in the form of unhealthy relationships, eating habits, and addictions.

Daily meditation can help us feel better resourced, resilient and more able to manage our selves and our circumstances. Starting a meditation practice doesn’t have to be difficult, grand, or anything too mystical.

Start with small achievable goals like 5 minutes of mindfulness practice in the morning.

What is Mindfulness?

Over the last few years, mindfulness has become more popular. However, observing the mind is not a new concept. Mindfulness has been a facet of Buddhism for over 2000 years. But what is “mindfulness”?

Mindfulness is the act of being consciously present and aware of your experience moment to moment, you can have a focus such as the breath. It is simple though maybe not easy.

I like to frame this practice with an emotional tone of loving kindness, this is not about doing anything perfectly, it’s about being curious, loving, and compassionate with your self.

Mindfulness and the Mind

Neuroplasticity, the structural and functional changes in the brain caused by experience, can be utilised by our meditation practice. Every time we connect with present moment in a place of non-judgement, love, and compassion our capacity to experience those things grows.

During the observational practice of mindfulness, practitioners become aware of the wandering nature of the mind, sometimes people feel that they can’t meditate because of this experience but that is not the case. It is the nature of the mind to chatter. Ultimately awareness of the processes of the mind leads to a sense non attachment, and freedom from what may have been quite painful thought patterns.

7 Benefits of Meditation

Practicing mindfulness requires the self-regulation of attention. In this practice, you adopt the attitude of an observer to what you are experiencing in the present moment.

Here we have listed 7 of the many benefits of meditation. In fact the practice is so personal that every practitioner will have a somewhat different list of what mindfulness brings to their lives:

1. Being mindful promotes self-acceptance.

Mindfulness is not punishing. Rather, mindlessness is about gentle observation, openness, and non-judgement of one’s self and experience. We learn to be patient with ourselves as we consistently and gently bring our attention back to the breath and the present moment.

2. Mindfulness can positively affect body and mind.

Current research points to the fact that when we develop self-awareness through meditation practice, it has positive effects on our levels of anxiety, depression, and relationships with others…and at the same time reduces the risk of developing related physical diseases. Mindfulness is a great asset to a positive psychology approach to well-being.

3. Being mindful helps improve the quality of your attention.

Our working memory system stores information in our brains for future processing. In fact, there is a strong relationship between the quality of attention given and the efficacy of working memory. Van Vugt & Jha’s 2011 research took participants to an intensive month-long mindfulness training retreat and compared their memory recognition with a control group who had received no mindfulness training. The results showed a much faster reaction time in those that had received mindfulness training. These results suggest that mindfulness training, even when practiced for this relatively short time, lead to improvements in the quality of a person’s attention.

4. Mindfulness can help you live in your character strengths

Meditation can be an uncomfortable process. It requires patience, self-compassion, and commitment. So in as far as we practice meditation, we also develop these traits. We are much less likely to ‘act out’ in anger for example if we can have that bit of distance between the emotional experience and our action urge – we can see the emotion but we are not the emotion, we can watch it rise and fall away without becoming swept up by it. Mindfulness can help us be sensitive to our context and to express our character strengths in the most effective way possible.

5. Mindfulness Cultivates Resilience

Resilience is one’s ability to bounce back from difficult experiences and to be able to adapt to change well. The physical space in our brains that this process occurs within is called the “anterior cingulate cortex”. This anterior cortex plays important role in one’s ability to achieve optimal decision making.

Research findings show that those who attend mindfulness training for just 3 hours of practice heave measurably higher levels of activity in anterior cingulate cortex and have correlating higher performance when tested in terms of self-regulation and resisting distractors, compared to the control group. In other words, cultivating resilience is possible.

6. Mindfulness practice makes you Measurably happier

When depressed, our brain has high activity in the right prefrontal cortex. Inversely, we experience high activity in left prefrontal cortex when we are happy. So, what happens to this ratio when we practice mindfulness meditation?

Jon Kabat-Zinn showed that only 8 weeks of 1 hour daily mindfulness practice leads to significant increase in left-sided activity. That difference was maintained even after 4 months. So, even relatively short term practice can increase our happiness in measurable terms.

7. Mindfulness Reduces Stress

When we are constantly pushing though life, stressed out trying to juggle work, childcare, relationships, and lifes hardships a part of the brain called the “amygdala” takes over to help us manage. Persistent high activity in amygdala is associated with depression and anxiety. Mindfulness practice can shrink the size of the amygdala, increasing our ability to manage stress. We can take responsibility for the experience our minds produce. Practicing meditation can reverse this process.

The renowned pioneer of person centred counselling, Carl Rogers once said,

‘People are just as wonderful as sunsets if I can let them be… When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, “Soften the orange a bit on the right-hand corner… I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.’

Meditation can help us bring some of this non-judgemental presence to ourselves, our experience, and each other.

With thanks to Zoe Southcott MA, MNCSAccred, PsychCounDip. Zoe is a writer and therapist, working in Oxford UK. For more information please visit Southcott Psychotherapy - Southcott Psychotherapy

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