With everything that’s going on in the world at the moment, the ability to reduce stress and build resilience has never been more relevant or important.
Dr Carolyn Ee is a GP, researcher, health and wellbeing advocate and runner. Dr Ee tells us more about meditation…
What is meditation?
Over the past few decades there has been an enormous growth in the scientific understanding of how our minds affect our physical bodies, and vice versa.
Mind-body medicine is a field that focuses on the interactions among the brain, mind, body and behaviour and includes the practice of meditation.
In its simplest form, meditation means taking time, on purpose, to focus one’s attention on something, whether it is the present moment (Mindfulness), kindness to oneself and others (Loving Kindness Meditation), or on a mantra.
Why should I consider the practice of meditation?
Meditation has been shown in scientific studies to have multiple benefits for physical and mental health. For example, research suggests that mindfulness-based interventions improve cardiovascular health, boost the immune response, decrease cellular ageing and improve general psychological health, while reducing stress, depression and anxiety.
The ability to reduce stress and build resilience has never been more relevant than it is today. Uncertainty, fear, and negativity are all completely natural responses to the way that Covid-19 has impacted the mental health of people around the world.
Meditation may also improve athletic performance. It is well known that pursuing physical activity requires a range of psychological skills including motor control, pain management skills, motivation skills and coping skills.
For example, in order to get out for a run, one needs to be able to set a goal, feel confident that you can reach that goal, develop the motivation to reach the goal, make a plan to reach the goal, overcome barriers to walking out the door (such as feeling tired, or wanting to snuggle on the couch and watch Netflix instead), cope with the discomfort of physical activity, and keep the motivation going until the end of the run. Wow! That’s a lot of psychological skills!
Meditation can help us build many of these skills, such as being able to clarify values in order to set a goal, and regulate negative emotions and self-talk.
Loving Kindness Meditation
Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) is a technique used to increase feelings of warmth and caring for yourself and others. Unlike mindfulness which directs attention to the present moment, LKM involves directing one’s emotions toward warm and tender feelings in an open-hearted way.
For example, LKM could benefit healthcare workers by increasing self compassion and therefore reducing the chance of compassion fatigue and burnout.
Evidence suggests that LKM could be beneficial for a number of mental health disorders including depression, eating disorders, and also for physical disorders such as chronic pain.
Practising LKM is actually quite simple and only takes about 15 minutes. You can listen to guided meditations to help you with the practice initially. LKM involves directing warm and loving feelings initially towards yourself, and then progressively to others (from loved ones to all living beings).
For anyone interesting in trying LKM, here’s a great example to get you started.
Top Tips for Getting Started With Meditation
1. A guided meditation from a podcast is the easiest way to start. These can be as short as five minutes.
2. Pick a time of the day that you might like to try to meditate and play around with the time to see what works best for you. For some people, this might be first thing in the morning. For others it could be during the day (especially at particular transition times eg from work to home), or before bedtime.
3. Don’t worry if you fall asleep! This is your body’s way of catching up on some much needed rest and was probably exactly what you needed at the time.
Dr Carolyn Ee
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