Ever Wondered About The Science Behind Meditation?

Shutterstock / KDdesignphoto © Woman with headphones meditating, stars in space in her mind

Even before the pandemic hit, many of us were struggling with anxiety and stress, and found it difficult to relax and unwind.

It’s been shown that meditation can really help with these and other issues. So here, the health and fitness experts from IRunFar explain what it’s all about, how to get started and how it’s fine to switch things around to suit you.

Join the meditation movement!

After the last year, many of us are still struggling with our mental health. In fact 60% of adults in the UK say their mental health has worsened during lockdown. It’s understandable that more of us are looking for new ways to relax and switch off.

Meditation has significantly increased in popularity in the past few years. More of us are giving it a go and really seeing the benefits for ourselves.

So how can a beginner start meditating, or how can someone keep up a meditation routine? And can it really help to improve health conditions?

IRunFar experts explain the science behind meditation and how the practice can help make a difference. They also offer tips and advice on how to start meditating… and how to stick to a routine.

What is meditation?

silhouette of virtual human on brain delta wave form 3d illustration , represent meditation and deep sleep therapy

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It’s a practice which will result in a mentally clear and emotionally calm state. This can be achieved by focusing your attention and eliminating excess thoughts. Meditation has been practised for thousands of years, across hundreds of cultures and religions. Don’t worry though, a rich religious or spiritual belief isn’t necessary to benefit from meditation.

You may have seen influencers on Instagram posting about practising “mindfulness”. This is actually a form of meditation where you focus on how you feel in that precise moment, to relax the body and help reduce stress.

How can it really help me?

Meditation can offer a sense of calm and peace, which can benefit both emotional well-being but also your overall health. Emotionally, meditation can help reduce negative emotions, manage your stress and increase patience levels. However, meditation doesn’t just help you on an emotional level, but it can also be effective as a way of improving medical conditions, especially ones which may be worsened by stress.

It can reduce blood pressure

High blood pressure is when the pressure in your blood vessels is unusually high, which puts extra stress on your heart as it forces it to work harder in pumping blood around the body. A study conducted by Kent State University shows that those who practised meditation and mindfulness had significant decreases in blood pressure measurements.

“Meditating affects activity in the nervous system and alters the expression of genes linked to the immune system,” IRunFar explain. “Although meditation should not be used a sole remedy for high blood pressure, it’s proven to help alongside a balanced diet and frequent exercise.”

It reduces stress

Stress is something we have all experienced, whether at school or in the office, it’s a universally understood emotion. When you experience stress, your body releases hormones like adrenaline, and prolonged feelings of this can cause damage to our bodies, by increasing our blood pressure. Meditation triggers the body’s relaxation response and restores the body to a calm state, which is the exact opposite reaction to stress. Practising meditation can calm your mind and body by stopping the stress-induced thoughts.

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It controls depression

Now, it is completely understandable to feel sceptical at suggesting meditation can be a cure for depression, however a study conducted at John Hopkins University proves exactly that. The study looked at the relationship between meditation and its ability to reduce symptoms of depression and found successful bouts of frequent meditation can have similar effects as taken anti-depressants.

“Successful meditation practise can alter your reactions to feelings of stress and anxiety, which are triggers for depression,” IRunFar explain. “Over time, meditation will train the brain to achieve sustained focus.”

Of course, if you’re struggling with depression then make sure you see your GP in order to get the best advice for you.

It reduces anxiety

Anxiousness, much like stress and fear, is a feeling we can all relate to. Whether we feel anxiety before a big event, or even a Zoom call, it’s caused by an inability to regulate emotions.

Research has shown that a consistent meditation practice can reprogramme neural pathways in our brains. This improves our ability to regulate emotions.

A study conducted by Harvard Medical School showed that meditating may be associated with important structural changes in areas of the brain which are important for emotional processing.

How to start meditating

Calm woman gardener in a straw hat, apron and yellow rubber gloves in lotus pose meditates and relaxes on grass in green home garden. Mental health and enjoying of gardening

Pic: Shutterstock

Although starting to meditate may feel daunting, getting started is a straightforward process.

You don’t need any equipment to begin. Firstly, all you need is a comfortable and quiet place, where you won’t be distracted. Try and find a time which best suits you. Avoid squeezing in meditation when you can’t prioritise the practice, as this will result in the meditation simply not working for you.

Follow these steps to get yourself ready:

  1. Find a time and a comfortable area which works best for you. This could be your bedroom floor, the living room sofa, or a camping chair in the garden. Choose wherever you feel most comfortable.
  2. Work out how long you can take to meditate – but as a beginner, it is best to start small. Successful meditation doesn’t need to be hours long. Even just a five-minute practice can work.
  3. Sit comfortably.

There are different meditation methods out there, so it is a good idea to try a few methods and see which one works best for you.

Beginning with focused attention, or Zen meditation, is an ancient Buddhist tradition, which involves following your breath and letting your mind be. This is a fantastic way to get started with meditation, as it’s a way to bring in a sense of presence and being at one with yourself.

Woman in yoga class touches 2 fingers to her forehead during meditation

Pic: Shutterstock

Other types of meditation for you to try, as you explore it further

  • Body Scan – this is where you perform “mental scans” of your body, starting at the top of your head and working down your body. This is a good way to synchronise the body and mind.
  • Mantra Meditation – like focused attention meditation, where you focus on a mantra. Mantras can be words or phrases, with the idea to encourage a positive change.

Tips to further your practice

Meditation is all about practice and discovering what works best for you. Are you better at meditating as soon as you get up in the morning, or do you find a quick five-minute breather at 3pm works best for you?

It’s also important to be consistent with your practice and avoid setting yourself expectations that are too high.

As you are growing into your practice, you will find meditating at some points of the day don’t work as well as others. You will also find certain methods work better for you. The key is having an open mind and trying what works for you.