Meditating On Your Health

Photo credit: Cornelia Kopp.

After the holidays are over, it’s easy to focus solely on the health of our bodies: we gained a few pounds, we got out of step with our fitness routines, we feel sluggish because it’s so dark and damp and chilly. But with a month of winter yet to come before the social events of spring take us out and about, now may be the time to use those dark mornings and early evenings to rejuvenate our mental health, as well. Before you start spring cleaning your home, try a good cleanse of your mind.

Some of you may be familiar with meditative practise from a yoga class (we offer many here at WFCC). It’s common at the beginning or end of a yoga session to begin with breathing exercises that are meant to hone practitioners’ focus and re-dedicate their intentions for that day’s practise. But there are as many types of meditation as there are health benefits to be derived from it.

In a randomized, controlled clinical trial, researchers found that a program of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) “was effective in decreasing mood disturbance and stress symptoms in both male and female patients with a wide variety of cancer diagnoses, stages of illness, and ages.”

Further, an eight-week study of those who meditated thirty minutes a day found increased grey matter density in the brain. Specifically, the density increased in the left hippocampus, which helps control emotional reactions and empathy. The study suggests that “participation in MBSR is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.”

Perhaps because meditation can lower stress, it has also been found to lower blood pressure. In a 2009 study of people at high risk for cardiovascular disease, transcendental meditation was “was associated with 43% reduction in risk for all cause mortality, myocardial infarction and stroke.”

But how does one learn to meditate? Although there are increasing numbers of secular meditation classes based on the MBSR model pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn, you might not have the time for whole course on the subject. Also, you may not be ready to share the experience with others. Luckily, as with everything else, there’s an app for that.

  • Simply Being allows you to program the volume and style of background noise as a teacher gently guides you through five, ten, or twenty minute meditations.
  • Headspace on the Go offers a step-by-step training programme for learning meditation, as well as “buzzers” to help you check in with yourself, and 365 different guided meditation sessions.
  • Buddhify allows users to create their own meditation sequences, and offers an almost game-like practise.
  • Mind is a simple meditation timer, for those who have already tried meditation and just want a gentle reminder to keep going.
  • For those looking for a more medically-researched approach, check out the Cleveland Clinic Stress Meditations App.