Could you take better care of yourself?
Asking that question, what response first comes to mind? In today’s world, absorbed as we are in a seemingly endless slew of commitments, pressures and information, we can often forget about our well-being.
Yet I think it’s important. In the same way that we regularly go to the gym to care for our physical health, we also need tools and practices to stay mentally well.
In this article I’d like to look at some simple meditation practices that can foster better emotional and mental well-being. Not only this, but I also want to explore how it’s possible to fit them into an already busy life without the need to rearrange any time. I sincerely believe that the mainstream acceptance of contemplative practices is a wonderful thing. Not as a “new-agey” means to other-worldly experiences, but as promoting an approach to life that involves self-compassion, forgiveness and inner stability. All things worth having.
Harvard physician Dr. Herbert Benson introduced what he called the “Relaxation Response” in his seminal book of the same name. This “response” comprises a series of positive physiological changes that occur during meditation. These include a reducing of blood pressure, muscle tension and heart rate. We subjectively experience this as a state of calm.
But why is engaging the “relaxation response” so beneficial? The answer lies in its ability to counter the negative effects of stress.
We’ve all heard of the fight-or-flight response. When we perceive a threat our bodies undergo a series of associated physiological changes. Our heart rate increases, blood flow to our extremities decreases and a myriad of hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, are released. Whilst there is no problem with this in the short-term, long-term exposure to these perceived stressors can have damaging effects.
When we are constantly in the presence of stress-inducing stimuli (having our boss scream in our ear one moment, and angry customer in our other the next) and our fight-or-flight response is operating in overdrive, stress becomes the norm rather than the exception.
Instigating the relaxation response – through meditation – enables us to return to a pre-stress stage. Equally, with regular practice we can train ourselves to maintain it in the midst of a demanding world.
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