Why should you meditate?
The benefits of meditation for the mind and body have been explored – and perhaps misunderstood – for centuries. The ancient practice has been lauded as a long-term fix for stress, panic attacks and myriad physical gripes. But, until recently, the connection between meditation and its physiological benefits has been difficult to explain. Now, new studies are providing the proof and understanding we need, and at the core of this research into meditation’s physical effects lies the relationship between stress and inflammation. “Stress is an inflammatory trigger,” explains Jillian Lavender, Vedic meditation teacher and co-founder of the London Meditation Centre and New York Meditation Centers. “In turn, inflammation burdens the cells in our body and contributes to all manner of chronic conditions, such as arthritis, asthma and ulcers.”
Inflammation is our body’s first line of defense against illness and injuries, and is really useful when active for short periods of time. However, problems begin to arise when inflammation remains in the ‘on’ position for too long and can ultimately contribute to disease and various physical ailments. But good news comes from researchers at the Brain, Belief and Behaviour lab at Coventry University in the UK: their wide-ranging review of 18 trials including 846 participants found that genes related to inflammation became less active in people practicing mindfulness. Further research out of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, US, has also delivered promising results. The study, published in the Biological Psychiatry journal, showed that mindfulness meditation training reduced blood levels of Interleukin-6, an inflammatory biomarker, in people suffering stress.
What are the health benefits of meditation?
While there is much more research to be done to prove a direct link between meditation and its physical health benefits, what has been uncovered so far certainly points towards meditation as a useful tool in the arsenal against stress-related illness and ailments. “When meditating, the body is unburdened of tension as a result of oxygen consumption and a lower heart rate,” says Lavender. “Stress chemicals cease to be produced, serotonin is released, and the fight or flight cycle (when the body stops digesting food and dumps acid in the stomach) is broken.”
Experts suggest meditating twice a day for 20 minutes, to bookend your day. If you’re a novice, try one of the many great meditation apps available on iOS and Android, such as Headspace, which was created by former Buddhist Monk Andy Puddicombe.
How to micro-meditate
In an ideal world, we would all be able to set aside 40 minutes a day for meditation, but sometimes even that can be impossible in our over-scheduled lives. Thankfully, research suggests that even just a few minutes here and there every day can be beneficial to physical and mental wellbeing, with new and innovative tech allowing you to fit in moments of mindfulness wherever, and whenever, you can.
How to be mindful at work
Some modern offices now better resemble a hangout space or spa than a place of work. The thought behind this is that a happier, more grounded and balanced workforce equals a better environment and better productivity. In London, meditation studio InHere has teamed up with workspace providers Uncommon to create on-site meditation pods for workers to retreat to for a few minutes during the day and listen to either a guided mediation or sounds of nature. In Gurugram, India, co-working space GoWork also boasts a dedicated meditation zone for employees to take advantage of. If you don’t have access to such facilities, find your own spot where you won’t be disturbed or distracted. Time to get your om on…