We’re told to do so many things in order to make us happier and healthier. We should cut down on sugar, start jogging every evening, do weighted exercises, eat more fruit and veg, get to bed earlier… it can be difficult to fit it all in! We’re all concerned with our health and fitness, but when it actually comes to changing our lifestyles it can be very difficult to know where to start.
One surprising habit that can kick-start our health and performance is meditation. Whether it’s Vedic meditation, transcendental, yoga or mindfulness, meditation can be a keystone habit which forms the basis of improved well being. Helping you from dawn until dusk, here’s how a little meditation every day can make you feel great.
If you find yourself waking up for work feeling as though you haven’t been to bed at all, sluggishly dragging yourself out of the house and half-dozing through the morning, then taking up meditation could be a way to boost your energy. You could meditate for twenty minutes before you leave for work, or do so on your commute (if you take the bus or train – it’s not the best idea behind the wheel!) and become a little more bright-eyed.
This is because meditation allows us to rest deeply, countering the effects of stress that exhaust us and giving us the space we need to relax our minds and bodies. Having these moments to profoundly unwind will give you a sense of calm, and also leave you refreshed and ready to face the world.
Many meditation techniques, such as the mantra-based transcendental meditation, can be easily practiced in a wide range of settings – even at work. If your day really isn’t going well, with a pile of work and even bigger pile of pressure to get through, using your mid-morning break to get some meditation in could really help your stress levels.
Even though we know that a late assignment or twenty urgent emails aren’t life-threatening events, our ancient “flight or fight” response still behaves as if they are. That panicky feeling that stops us from concentrating properly, escalating small issues to insurmountable problems, is the result of our bodies releasing stress hormones and preparing us to either run or fight for our lives.
Meditation reigns in this stress response, reducing stress hormones and regulating our innate reaction to pressure.
Surprisingly enough, if you meditate regularly it can actually help you stick to a healthy weight. While in the short-term stress hormones such as adrenaline lead to a drop in appetite, chronic stress elevates our levels of the hormone cortisol – which prompts us to replenish our energy supply. This means that if we’re often stressed, we tend to eat more and make less sensible choices, unconsciously motivated by our hormones to seek high-sugar, high-fat options. Furthermore, the lack of sleep that often accompanies stress also contributes to hunger and cravings.
By reducing stress and cortisol, meditation helps us make healthy food choices, as we aren’t so influenced by stress and tiredness – two things that have us diving straight for the bad stuff.
The afternoon slump is something that seems pretty common for people in their work day. After eating, we can experience a drop in energy while we digest our food, and refocusing after the break can sometimes take longer than it should. It’s frustrating to be at work but unable to focus properly, and we can become uncomfortably aware of the time we’re wasting.
If you find your productivity dropping after lunch, it may be encouraging to learn that a meditation habit could benefit you. Less stress tends to correlate with higher productivity, confirming the anecdotal wisdom that “happy workers are better workers”.
Many of us attempt some exercise in the evenings. A run around the neighbourhood, sweaty gym session or few lengths in the pool can make a big difference to your health, but sometimes the motivation is hard to find. We don’t get many opportunities to relax in the modern world, so mustering the willpower to turn off the TV and pulling on our trainers isn’t always easy.
Meditation both boosts our motivation and sharpens our focus, improving our sports performance to the extent that the practice is recommended to athletes – with sports people like Tom Daley and Laura Trott using meditation to achieve their goals.
While you may not be quite at the Olympian level yet, feeling as though your fitness is improving and a new personal best is just around the corner might just be the impetus you need to keep going – all helped by meditation.
Stress can make it very hard to sleep properly, even if we’ve been exhausted all day. A survey found that 30% of people in the UK are severely sleep deprived, and this is thought to have a huge impact on health. Apart from anything else, lack of sleep tends to make us feel terrible, but if you spend each night staring at the ceiling you don’t have to put up with it. Meditation can quieten the noisy thoughts that are keeping you awake at night, and allow you to drift off naturally.