Imagine sitting in a crappy apartment across the world all alone contemplating life and freaking out! Well, that was me years ago when I was teaching in South Korea and going through an intense period of stress. I was stressed out by being physically alone in a new country (hello culture shock!!), figuring out my calling (teaching?), navigating my way in a Non-English speaking environment, trying to pay off a mountain of debt and just dealing with my quarter-life crisis and the issues that I thought I left behind in Canada!
Luckily, I was reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert during one particularly difficult occasion. Coincidentally, I had started reading the part about meditation when that’s just what I needed the most…stillness!
Before moving to South Korea, I had tried desperately to meditate without success. This time, however, was different. I was desperate to feel calm. I found my usual outlets such as journaling, massages, talking to friends, and exercising simply could not calm me down. So I tried meditating again. I sat, breathed in to a count of five and out to a count of five and just kept going…
I meditated until I was so relaxed that my head would bobble over and I saw colours! After days of doing this I found the relief I was searching for. Calmness. No anxiety.
Lately I’ve been feeling the same way; anxious, overly busy, not connected to my body, and not connected to me. Like most people, I want to DO anything BUT sit in stillness! Yet, meditation calls to me (I see it everywhere!) like it has so many times since I lived in South Korea. So, here I am beginning again as I so often do with my meditation practice. It’s one of the best things that I can do so that I feel healthy and grounded. As a new mama, I’m needing some grounding!
It’s as simple as 5 minutes (or more if you can manage it). I find that 20 minutes fly by. I do it when I can, which happens to be right before bed at night. As you can see from the pic above its hard to meditate with a baby crawling around crying lol!
What’s going on in the body:
Physiologically when you meditate you are breathing in deep belly breaths through your nose and long exhales through your mouth. This calms your nervous system and puts it into rest and digest mode, effectively distressing your body. Meditation allows us to transition from the sympathetic (fight or flight mode) to parasympathetic mode (rest and digest). This is amazing for our health, especially for those of us who love to do, do, do! When we are relaxed or at least less stressed, our bodies turn down cortisol production. While cortisol is an important biomolecule, too much can reduce our immunity, increase inflammation and generally wreak havoc on our health.
Check out the differences below. While we need both nervous system functions, as a society we tend to be in the fight or flight mode far too often.
Parasympathetic Nervous System Functions1:
- most active when body is at rest and not threatened in any way
- relaxed muscles
- puts body into a state of calm
- promotes optimal digestion
- decreased demands on cardiovascular system
- house keeping system turned on
- increased immunity
- reduced heart rate
Sympathetic Nervous System Functions:
- activated when emotionally upset or physically stressed
- tense muscles
- increased inflammation
- cortisol levels increase
- immunity hampered
- digestion hampered
- increased heart rate
- increased blood pressure
- increase in blood glucose levels
In a more ‘woo-woo’ sense, when we meditate we are able to create more space in our life. The to-do lists fade away, we are still and nothing is urgent. We can also harness this rest to be more creative, more in the moment and happier (but there are studies to prove this so it’s not that out there, ha!).
I know meditation to be the ultimate tool that I have to help me to calm down when nothing else is working. Mediation definitely helps me to rebalance. It’s not an easy thing to do but is definitely worth it.
How to Meditate: A Simple Beginner’s Guide
Sometimes I will use the app Calm, however, lately I just sit in ‘easy pose’ (like in the pic sans my crying son!) and breath in and out for 20 minutes. I breath in for a count of five deeply into my stomach (not just upper chest) and out fully for 5 counts. If a thought comes into my mind and I get caught up in thinking, I try to be aware of it and when I do I come back to my breath. It might take me a few seconds or minutes to come back to just counting my breaths in and out. This is a practice so you must practice(!) Even after years of meditating I continue to struggle. A good rule of thumb is 21 days to create a habit but try 40 just for good measure!
I also love Gabrielle Bernstein. She has tons of free meditations on her site and some great books too!
Now it’s your turn: Do you meditate? If so, do you just use a breathing technique like me, or do you walk and be present? Are you a horrible meditator? How do you calm down? I would love to know!
Source: 1 Marieb, E.N., Essentials of Human Anatomy and Physiology 10th Ed. 2012