Things You Didn’t Know About Meditation
Meditation, an Eastern practice built around mindfulness in order to bring calm and clarity to our beings. Not only is it a practice rooted in bringing about mental and emotional health, but it actually can bring about physical health as well. Just as our nervous, respiratory, muscular, and all our organ systems are interconnected in a complex way, our mind and body are as well. The mind-body connection is deeply complex, and meditation is a practice that can aid in bringing health and balance to that dynamic.
Where to start! Our brain is THE control center of our body’s. Consciously and unconsciously, our brain ensures things are getting taken care of inside, and out! The conscious component is where things can easily get lost in translation. You can even think of this from a simple hunger-fullness point of view. Are you in tune with your body’s hunger cues? What about when you’re full? The same can be said for our mental and emotional health and how they impact our body’s physical responses.
A lot can be said about the phrase “You can do anything you put your mind to.” Meditation can strengthen that mind-body connection so that you have the power to find control mentally, emotionally, and physically. Bringing your mind’s attention to your breath, can physically slow your breath down. Bringing your mind’s attention to your stiff muscles, can physically begin to relax them. That is powerful right there – incredibly powerful. Which brings me to this next section!
What most people don’t know – The physical toll of stress & anxiety
Most people, when they think of meditation, they think of it in terms of mental and emotional stress management. Rightfully so! From a functional medicine standpoint though, when we think of stress, we also think of the harmful physical effects that chronic stress can have on our body and overall health.
Stress can lead to anxiety, which can present itself physically like shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, inflammation, nausea, and headaches. Stress alone without the presence of anxiety can result in those same physical tolls on the body, along with stomach issues such as heartburn, or GERD, and cardiovascular issues like high blood pressure. We can continue down that rabbit whole and think along the lines that chronic high blood pressure can lead to cardiovascular disease, inflammation can lead to a host of chronic illness, pain, etc., but I think you get the picture!
If you are someone who has anxiety, or is chronically stressed, it can actually be incredibly difficult for your mind to make that connection to your physical body. Making it hard to grasp the true physical toll it is having on your health aside from maybe feeling exhausted!
So, not only can meditation help relieve the stress you feel from a psychological standpoint, but it has been shown to improve some of these physical signs of stress as well. Mindfulness based meditation resulted in lower overall cortisol levels throughout the day in study participants, as well as lower levels of inflammatory cytokines (tumor necrosis factor-alpha & interleukin-8), when compared to individuals that completed a health enhancement program (including exercise, nutrition, and music therapy) (1).
Transcendental meditation is a form of meditation that slowly brings an active mind to a quieter, peaceful state of awareness. This specific form of meditation as a primary treatment for high blood pressure showed reduction in both systolic and diastolic levels. With the greatest results seen in older women, and the higher the blood pressure and the more regularly TM was practiced, the greater the results(2). Showing that consistency matters!
Lastly, chronic pain. Pain can arise from a host of reasons, and chronic pain can be the most frustrating to treat and very debilitating. A randomized controlled trial using mindfulness based meditation practice to treat pain clinic patients, found that participants reported an improvement in their mental well-being, lower anxiety and depression, an increased sense of control over their pain, and higher pain acceptance. Although measures in actual pain didn’t show significant results, patients’ response to their pain and how it impacted their quality of life improved (3). Displaying that meditation can be a beneficial component to a well rounded treatment plan!
If this has you thinking if meditation could be a perfect fit to your personal wellness plan or health concerns, read on for some tips and advice on how to get started.
How To Build Your Own Meditation Practice
First and foremost, meditation is not a primary treatment. If you are experiencing anxiety, I strongly recommend reaching out to a healthcare provider for a specialized approach to your mental wellness. We are more than happy to sit down and discuss your physical health concerns here at STRONGLIFE as well.
If meditation is something you’d like to include into your lifestyle, the best place to start is – thinking through your WHY. Why do you want to meditate? Why are those the benefits you are looking to gain? Once you have a solid foundation for the purpose behind building up your meditation practice, here are somethings you can do to begin taking action –
- Figure out a time of day that works best – consistency matters here. If your schedule is inconsistent, work with what you got, and do the best you can to find your own routine.
- Find or create a place you’ll want to be in – make it as comforting and serene for yourself as you can, but most of all, make sure it’s quiet and calm. It can be a favorite chair, on a yoga mat, or on a small pillow, whatever you prefer. If it’s at your desk at work – you’re making time for this and that is what matters most.
- Start small – even if you’re just starting with 5 min, starting small is better than starting big, feeling like it didn’t go well and ditching it all together. Practice patience, kindness towards yourself and don’t give up!
- Guided Meditations – Guided meditations can be a great resource to use when you are just getting started. You can sometimes feel a little lost, or frustrated when you sit calmly and quietly with yourself trying to ditch the stressors of your life. So using an app or other resource that provides guided meditations can help you feel more comfortable easing into it. An added benefit of guided meditations is that some can be specific to the benefits you’re looking for – back pain, menstrual pain, work-day stress, etc.
At STRONGLIFE Functional Medicine in Lithia, FL, Dr. Justin Scott can help you address any underlying issues, whether you realize they’re there or not, and improve your overall health.
“I hope that you found this as valuable as my patients have over the years. If you’re interested in a patient-centered process that takes into account all aspects that affect your health, then I would encourage to visit our website at www.stronglifefunctionalmedicine.com to see how we help our patients improve their health and to find if you are a good candidate for a Functional Medicine approach.