This month we wrap up our Movement and Holistic Wellbeing blog series by focusing on the practice of meditation. We have touched on this so much over the last three months whilst considering how Pilates, yoga and barre all incorporate elements of meditation to help connect our mind, body, and soul.
To round up this blog series, it is truly fitting that we focus on meditation and its profound effect on our holistic wellbeing. Many of you may ask, “isn’t meditation a practice of being still? How does the practice itself fit into this series on movement?”. As we have seen over the last three weeks looking at various forms of exercise, meditation in itself is not always about stillness. In fact, the benefits of meditation are often realised when it can be practised during any of the activities we engage in as we move throughout our day. It is not always about finding chunks of time to sit still in silence and ‘meditate’.
Meditation is the practice of learning to bring ourselves to an emotionally calm and mentally clear state, by really focusing on our own present experience as it is happening. Many techniques ask you to focus on your breathing in order to gain mental clarity and have a ‘focal point’ to make it easier to ignore outside distractions or unhelpful thoughts that may be racing through your head. Meditation calls you to be mindful of your ‘here and now’, to pay attention to your present state and personal experience of what is actually happening as you experience it- to just ‘be’ in your situation.
And this can be practised whether we are having a moment of stillness in solitude, or whether we are engaging in movement in its varying forms. In fact, it is often these times of physical movement or even exertion that meditation can really have the most benefit for our overall wellbeing- providing us with the capacity to cope under physical and mental stress.
Meditation can be done whilst doing anything, from cooking, taking a shower, listening to music, or commuting to work. Actually noticing the sights, smells, sounds, physical sensations that are presented to us, and focusing on our interpretations and thoughts around these specific stimuli, rather than racing thoughts, is meditation. If you are able to master the art of meditating on the go, you will truly reap the benefits of being able to experience things more fully and authentically, rather than existing in a state of distraction, going through the motions and missing the value in certain experiences because you are frazzled and thinking about that next thing that needs to get done on your to-do list.
Think of it this way, worrying about what has been or what could happen in the future has no power to actually change either of those things. But if we can concentrate on the present moment, we unlock the ability to create our reality in the here and now.
Let’s take a look below at how meditation works holistically to connect our mind, body and soul.
How Meditation Benefits Your Mind
Meditation relaxes the mind and allows you more mental clarity. The aim of meditation is to notice your thoughts, but to realise that they are just thoughts, and you do not have to actually respond to all of them. This ‘freeing up’ of your headspace creates the capacity for better memory and attention-span, better decision-making, and overall, allows you the ability to tune into your current state of being and actually experience it.
Generally, the act of quietening the mind and focusing on your current experience means you will feel less overwhelmed, frazzled, and stressed. Learning to meditate means that you are training your mind to concentrate and focus, and when you can do that, you are better able to cope and centre yourself in stressful situations in everyday life.
Meditation is renowned for helping those with depression and anxiety, because numerous research studies have found that regular practice blocks the release of stress hormones into the body, as well as actually changing the physical structure of the brain in a positive way for those areas associated with depressive symptoms.
How Meditation Benefits Your Body
When our minds are overwhelmed, our bodies tense up and stress hormones play havoc with our overall physical wellbeing and functioning. The ability to redirect or control our thoughts allows us to calm our mind, and means our physical health will also improve tremendously. Meditation allows you to shift your body out of a stress response and into a calmer state, which means that sleep, digestion, pain reception, blood pressure and a sense of feeling physically well all improve.
A big part of meditation is tapping into your senses to ground yourself and pay attention to what you are physically feeling. Think about how rejuvenated you feel after a beach walk, when you actually notice how the warm soft sand feels between your toes, how the salty sea spray feels against your skin, how the sound of the crashing waves overrides most other sounds. Being able to tune in and notice your physical sensations as they are happening to you is key for your health and wellbeing, and meditation trains you to tap into that at a deeper and more consistent level.
How Meditation Benefits Your Soul
Meditation allows you the opportunity to tune into your deepest thoughts and get to know your true self better. When you allow yourself the space to tap into your own subconscious and perceptions of what your senses are telling you, you gain insight into how you naturally tend to think and feel at a deeper level.
Meditation asks you to tap into this and take notice of your true self and your reactions to the world as you experience it, and why you may react the way you do. This can be eye opening for some, especially if you tend to run on autopilot throughout your day and have lost touch with your intuition. Practicing meditation consistently will allow you to come back to your true self and what will allow you to feel more content- by being aware of your thoughts, actions and decisions, and altering them where needed to be more aligned with who you are and what you truly want. When you really notice your thoughts and how you tend to naturally think, meditation can help you to consider where you might need to work on your reactions and be more constructive in the way you interpret situations or reframe your thinking for the better.
When you begin to have this awareness, it is easier to live in alignment with your true self. Your confidence grows and your ability to trust in yourself and your decisions and problem-solving increases. This self-confidence translates to an increase in self-love and appreciation, and also extends to an increase in positive interactions with others. When we can practice self-love and compassion, it is far easier to extend that to others in our lives too.
Meditation is such an accessible practice because you do not actually need anything to do it. There are many fantastic guided meditation apps out there if you are new to meditation or would like to learn how to start the practice. There are also many meditation studios and classes available if you would prefer face-to-face guidance or connection with a group.
Remember, consistency is key with meditation. Like anything, the more we practice, the easier it becomes and the greater the benefits.