Healing Through Meditation & Mindfulness
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, dealing with trauma or anxiety, the best way to settle your mind could be through meditation and/or mindfulness. The goal of meditation is to make peace with the mind and find our inner essence: contentment and peace. With mindfulness, the goal is to become more in touch with our surroundings. However, as you may have noticed, the mind is a crowded place. It is very hard at first to calm its instinctive nature of noisiness. But it is incredibly good for your mental wellbeing.
Some of the earliest written records of meditation (Dhyana) come from the Hindu traditions. Later, other forms of meditation developed in Taoist China and Buddhist India.
The most common form of meditation is transcendental, which is a silent mantra meditation, developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. You can find a mantra online, or even create your own! Other types of meditation include: heart rhythm meditation (coordinating your breath with the rhythm of your heart), kundalini (a Hindu practice that focuses on the primal energy said to be located at the base of the spine), qigong (coordinated body posture and movement) and zazen (primary practice of the Zen Buddhist tradition).
Personally I prefer guided meditation, but the one I practise is very similar to mindfulness. This is when a voice guides you through your meditation. Usually throughout the guided sessions I use, I focus on my breathing and my bodily awareness. Resources for this can be found on YouTube, in podcasts, or using the app ‘Headspace’. Mindfulness, as mentioned before, is the state of awareness of our surroundings. It is different from meditation because the focus is not on your personal core but on the things around you. Mindfulness is found to be healthier, seeing as it does not have any disassociation side effects. By creating an awareness of the body in a healthy dynamic, you can reclaim it too! Through it you become more in tune with your body’s present sensory intake and emotions. However, all forms I’ve mentioned are about moving the focus away from everyday thoughts and into a state of mental or bodily awareness.
When doing mindfulness/meditation, you must find a quiet space and a position that feels comfortable. You should also ease into it gradually. Don’t jump into doing half an hour every day. If you’re anything like me, you’ll end up giving it up too soon. Perhaps start with five minutes a day and build it from there. You can use an alarm. One of the most important things to be aware of is that things may not start working straight away. If you pressure yourself to calm your mind perfectly, the opposite will happen! Remember that it’s not really about clearing your mind: it’s about noticing thoughts but not dwelling on them. Just watching them pass by and shifting your attention back to wherever the guidance is telling you.
If you’re dealing with trauma, there are studies to show that you should definitely try meditation. There was a January 2016 study, “Impact of Transcendental Meditation on Psychotropic Medication Use Among Active Duty Military Service Members With Anxiety and PTSD”. And what was discovered was that military service members who practised transcendental meditation regularly, in addition to their other therapy, mostly (83.7%) reduced or stopped their use of psychotropic drugs to treat their PTSD conditions. Also, Susan M. Pollak, a clinical psychologist at Harvard Medical School, says: “By grounding awareness in the body, it in turn helps calm the mind. Because the attention is focused on the periphery of the body, it’s usually a good practice for those with a history of trauma.”
The same way that PTSD can change the structure of the brain, mindfulness can too! In a study conducted by Britta Hölzel of Harvard Medical School, M.R.I. scans of people before and after mindfulness meditation practiced for about 30 minutes a day over a period of eight weeks were examined for any physical changes in the brain. The research found an increase in the grey matter in the hippocampus, an important part of brain for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of the same grey matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress (these changes were not found in the control group that didn’t practice mindfulness).
Finally, it’s important to remember that meditation/mindfulness is not everyone’s cup of tea. Some people do not find it as useful as others. However, it’s not enough to try once and then veto the idea. I personally still find it hard to settle my mind and anxiety when practising mindfulness or meditation. But it has still significantly helped when I’ve needed it. Especially if I want to feel more in control of my mind. I recommend trying it out for at least a month. Remember that the world’s stresses have had the ability to negatively affect your mind, but you have the capacity to heal it. You can reclaim your body and your mind.
Image: Dhillon Ahira (@dhillonsart)