- Wendy Butler
Meditation and the benefits of practice
There are many times in our lives when we become stressed, more often than not, it is usually situations that are out of our control, something as simple as being stuck in bad traffic, but of course also worse case scenarios too as we are experiencing at the present time with the pandemic of COVID-19.
When we become stressed or anxious, our bodies activate the ‘flight or fight response’ and this is when physical signs occur and are produced by the body. When you’re stressed, your body responds. Your blood vessels constrict. Your blood pressure and pulse rise. You breathe faster. Your bloodstream is flooded with hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. As the body’s fight or flight centre is activated in the brain, adrenaline begins to rush around the body.
You may notice as the body prepares for action, that :
– your heart begins to beat faster – your breathing becomes fast or shallow – that feeling of anxiousness or agitation occurs – muscles tense – dry mouth, as saliva production decreases – feeling of nausea, loss of appetite as the blood is diverted to the muscles – feeling hot or sweating – not thinking straight, foggy head, loss of focus and mental clarity, may make bad judgements or wrong decisions
So when the brains ‘stress centre’ (the amygdala or frontal lobe) starts sending signals to our body, we begin to experience feelings of stress as the body and mind prepare for action. The amygdala is the oldest part of the brain that hasn’t changed since stone age times. If you were in the stone age and came face to face with a bear or something far bigger, the amygdala was the part of the brain that told your legs what to do – RUN ! If you came face to face with another tribe, it would tell you to FIGHT ! Our amygdala’s haven’t evolved like the rest of our bodies.
So regardless of whether there is a genuine threat present, our amygdala will still be activated and send the fight or flight response, causing the feelings mentioned.
Our state of mind has a very powerful influence on our emotions which affects our bodies. We know that when feeling stressed, we see changes in our physical bodies and our flight and fight mode goes into action even when there is no genuine threat.
Emotions such as joy, happiness and other positive emotions, produce a relaxed response, whereas emotions such as anger, fear, resentment and negative emotions produce a stress response.
So, how can we produce a relaxed response to certain emotions ?
When we respond to ourselves with self-compassion rather than critiscm, we activate different parts of the brain – the ‘tend and befriend’ parts that release oxytocin (the feel good hormone), resulting in us feeling better about ourselves, improving our mood and an improved sense of wellbeing. This in turn enables us to think clearly about the situation and without judgment.
Self-reflection may be good for contemplating past situations, without judgment. If another person is involved, they may not realise they have upset you or may themselves been having a bad time and under stress. Sometimes it may be that you just need to forgive the other person without judgment and move on for the sake of your own wellbeing and mental health.
If we are replaying a mistake/regret we have ourselves made, practising self-compassion and just allowing things ‘TO BE’ and ‘MOVE ON’ will be of enormous help.
Life is often full of difficult decision making and it can be impossible to keep everybody happy all of the time and we need to just accept this and have compassion for ourselves. We cannot change how others react, we cannot change many situations we find ourselves in, but we CAN change how we REACT to those situations. This is all in our own THOUGHT PROCESS.
Elements of self-compassion and care
Self-kindness - Being caring and understanding with ourselves (and others) rather than being critical or judgmental
In the same way we show compassion and care for others, we should remember to look after ourselves too. “You cannot pour from an empty cup”.
If we fail to look after our own needs and health, this will have a detrimental effect not only on ourselves, but on those around us. In order for us to care for others, we need to be running on 100% ourselves.
What things do you do for yourself ?
Mindfulness - Being aware of the present moment. Notice our emotions, acknowledgment them, accept we have them and understand why and then ‘LET GO’. In doing so we are aware of our pain in a balanced way, we are aware of it, we are not ignoring it, but we don’t obsess about it either.
Dealing with emotions Self-compassion is not about pretending that emotions don’t exist, it’s about noticing our suffering and being kind to ourselves. Its about realising that we are not perfect, nobody is and to extend compassion to others too is very empowering.
When we acknowledge emotional pain instead of trying to ignore it, its easier to become less attached, making it easier to Let Go.
When we extend our compassion to others, who we may sometimes feel have wronged us or upset us in some way, it can help to improve how we react towards a situation or them in the future, improving relationships as we feel more valued, listened to, considered and cared for.
Having compassion for others, can enrich our lives, reduce feelings of stress and disappointment.
As we learn to be more comfortable and recognise our own stress and de-stress, we can then learn and become more comfortable with somebody else’s stress. When we do this, our amygdala doesn’t fire up, but the areas of the brain linked to empathy and compassion become more responsive. This all enables us to connect with and respond to the needs of others in a balanced way at stressful and difficult times.
There are times when we do need to listen to our thoughts and our emotions, because they are telling us that we need to make some changes. During these times it may not be just enough to tell ourselves to ‘THINK POSITIVELY’ but that we may need to solve a problem in a constructive way rather than just over-thinking. When we look after our wellbeing and are managing our mental health in a healthy positive way, when these situations arise, we are able to take it in our stride and deal with it confidently and effectively. But if we don’t manage our mental health and wellbeing, this is when we find life experiences difficult to manage and deal with.
Almost all of us will face times of difficulty in varying degrees. At this time, being able to ‘let go’, having self compassion and trying to connect with the positive things in our lives can help us through these difficult times.
An important part of changing negative thinking, is to stop and realise our negative thinking patterns. Practising regular Meditation can help with this.
Our minds are AMAZING ! Our mind allows us to focus, to sense, to experience the world with complicated thought process’, to feel emotion, connection, to learn and to interact with others and the world on a meaningful level.
When we are not actively engaged in the present moment, our mind can go into autopilot and into default mode.
In default mode, our mind goes into wondering mental chatter (monkey mind). This can be detrimental when we are trying to complete a task and more so if the mental chatter is negative and self-critical. It might not always be negative, our mind could drift off to a holiday for instance, in a few weeks time, thinking about what we need to pack etc.
Meditation has been proven to reduce default mode and help the mind to focus. So by practising meditation each day, we can reduce the chatter and thought rambling. This can help us to focus on tasks, pay attention to things and others around us. Improving our focus and attention helps us with the tasks we need to do.
Being in the present moment or being mindful isn’t something we can just do during meditation. When we practice meditation, our mind becomes quieter and calmer, allowing our mind to learn a new behaviour. Breath is an important aspect to Meditation. In breath work we reconnect with the physical body and give the mind time to be still and calm. Scientific research now proves that correct breath can improve brain function, decision making, physical capabilities, endurance levels and even induce profound transpersonal meditative states. So regular practice of this within meditation will lead to our mind becoming calmer on a day to day basis as new behaviour is learned.
Many people feel they are unable to meditate and therefore feel they have failed and give up. Meditation does not come naturally and takes time and perserverence, but the rewards and benefits are worth taking the time to practice. There are many different types of meditation, from short 5 minute breathworks to much longer, deeper meditations for the more experienced. It is recommended that beginners start with the shorter breathwork sessions first and move slowly on once a relaxed breathwork is established.
In short, the benefits of Meditation include :-
lowering of blood pressure/slows down the cardiovascular system
relaxes the nervous system
relieves muscle tension
restores balanced function to the digestive system, aiding absorption of essential nutrients
eases intensity of headaches and/or migraines
relives insomnia and establishes and good sleep pattern
frees the mind from self-doubt and internal chatter (monkey mind chatter)
release fears and reduces anxiety
generates optimism, self-esteem, confidence and motivation
Meditation is worth taking the time and trouble to practice with all the above in mind. With all the benefits of above, it can support a calmer more peaceful mind, leading to a more relaxed lifestyle, which has to be better for your long term health and wellbeing.
If you would like to begin to meditate, I run regular hourly meditation sessions and also 1:1 sessions to work on specific areas. I also run a 7 week Workshop targeting Stress and Anxiety Management, which includes regular sessions of meditation.
During these uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am offering an online Guided Meditation Group via Facebook with access to many meditations whenever you like. For further information on the above, advice or support please contact me via:
My Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/escapeandrebalance/
Wendy Butler Holistic Wellbeing Therapist Escape & Rebalance Holistic Therapy