the science behind meditation and how it can benefit your whole wellbeing
Amongst the busyness, demands and distractions of modern life, moments of peace and tranquillity can seem few and far between. The ancient practice of meditation has long been called upon as an open door to welcome calm, balance and inner peace.
Meditation does more than relax a racing mind and help quieten the noise of the outside world, though. There are proven benefits of the practice on a person’s overall wellbeing – our bodies, our minds and our spirits.
To help us dive into the art of meditation and the proven, scientific benefits it can offer you, we’ve spoken with endota Retreat guide and meditation teacher Briony Goldsmith. Briony has a deep understanding of meditation, the different techniques you can draw from to make it a part of your daily routine – and the benefits they have on mind-body connection and your holistic wellbeing.
what is meditation and why might you embrace it?
There’s no one way to define meditation. It’s a deeply personal experience that has taken shape throughout countless cultures over many centuries – and as a result, can look and feel vastly different for each of us. At its core though, meditation cultivates a heightened state of awareness and mindfulness. Briony refers to this as ‘attention regulation’, where we direct our focus to a particular thing or process – like your breath, your body, a mantra or visualisation.
Meditation is often practised to encourage a deeper connection to the present moment, which can lead to benefits like stillness, relaxation and self-acceptance.
“I recommend someone integrate meditation into their routine for relaxation, stress management and promoting positive mental health, which profoundly impacts one's physical health”, says Briony. “Meditation creates space to tap into that wiser part of ourselves, where we can reconnect to how we feel at a deeper level.”
“Meditation creates space to tap into that wiser part of ourselves, where we can reconnect to how we feel at a deeper level.”
Briony Goldsmith, endota Retreat guide and meditation teacher
what are some of the key scientific benefits behind meditation?
There have been a number of scientific studies carried out around meditation – and the results have shown the practice (in its various forms) delivers all kinds of benefits.
Central to these benefits is the process of neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s capacity to adapt, change and form new neural connections. Through the repetitive thoughts, behaviours and environments that characterise meditative practice, we give our brains the opportunity to strengthen our neural pathways. Regular meditation has also been shown to positively impact grey matter density in the parts of our brain that are associated with memory, learning, attention and self-awareness.
The benefits of these neural shifts are broad – and lay a foundation for a healthier, happier life. “Brain activity has been shown to change in response to mediation and reduce feelings of anxiety, stress and mild depression”, Briony reflects. “Attention and memory have been shown to also improve, with regular meditators having been shown to have less age-related brain loss and better-quality sleep”.
what does this mean for our whole wellbeing?
How we think and feel has a profound impact on our physical health as well. It’s why mind-body connection continues to be such an important focus for wellness practitioners – and why so many of us draw on practices like meditation to support the wellbeing of our whole self.
In harnessing the power of our minds and building strength to foster positive emotions, loving thoughts, relaxation and stillness, we can reduce the negative impacts of stressful thoughts and feelings on our overall health. “Fearful thoughts and anger can negatively impact our nervous system, heart health, immune system, and digestion”, says Briony. “By directing attention away from stressful thoughts, we improve our overall health and wellbeing”.
Meditation supports this mind-body connection in a number of ways. In developing the ability to witness emotions in our mind without being consumed by them, we can regulate some of the more harmful impacts of negative emotions like stress or anger on our body. Similarly, focusing on sensations in our physical body through meditation has shown to build our capacity for mental clarity and focus. The mind and the body are linked through the concentrated, peaceful practice – and both enjoy the benefits.
what are some of the different meditation practices you can draw from to improve your health and wellbeing?
Studies have shown that different meditations engage different parts of your brain, so you can tailor your meditation practice to boost your wellbeing in certain ways as well. Mindfulness meditation, for example, has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, while increasing your attention. As Briony explains, “brain scans have shown mindfulness meditation affects the prefrontal cortex and amygdala, which are parts of the brain responsible for attention and emotional processing”. Mindfulness meditation involves being fully present and aware – without trying to be overly relaxed.
If it’s relaxation or help with sleeping that you’re hoping to achieve, a body scan meditation could be the practice that best supports your wellbeing in that moment. It involves you scanning the length or body, paying attention to any areas of tension – so you can, in turn, release that tension.“ This stops your mind wondering, keeps you in the present moment and aids relaxation, allowing you to drift off to sleep”, says Briony.
getting started on your own meditation journey
If you’re ready to experience the holistic wellbeing benefits of meditation as part of your regular ritual, there are a few simple steps you can take to started. Setting up a wellness space is an ideal first step – as you’ll have a physical environment that immediately helps you centre yourself and enter a more balanced headspace. You can also join Briony for a series of guided meditations through endota Retreat, if you’re not yet certain of how to engage with the various meditative practices – or simply prefer the companionship of a guided journey.
Once you’ve made meditation a part of your daily life, you’ll be all set to enjoy the scientifically-proven benefits for your whole wellbeing. So, take a deep breath, find your centre – and let your meditation journey begin.
Want to know the science behind yoga? Read our blog for a deeper look into this practise.
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