The benefits of meditation

What can you achieve in 20 minutes? You can make a cup of coffee and have a short break, put on your make-up, fold your clothes, vacuum the floor, clean the bathroom, do your handwashing or call Telstra and be put on hold. In the same amount of time, you could discover the many benefits of meditating.

Taking time out
You will feel calm and relaxed after a short break, a sense of achievement when you have folded the washing, uncluttered when the floor is vacuumed, pristine when the bathroom is shining and ordered when the handwashing is complete. You will look great when your make-up is done and you’ll be back online when you have spoken to Telstra. But you will be all of the above and more when you meditate.

Meditation is not only the easiest way to reap benefits such as these, but it's also a scientifically certified form of stress relief. It's guaranteed to bring you clarity, calmness and the peace of mind you seek.

It also makes you feel and look younger, as it stimulates the human growth hormone and is the equivalent of up to seven hours of sleep. So why wouldn’t you spend up to 20 minutes a day meditating? Most likely you will say you don’t have the time.

Of course, you’ll always have time to have a cup of coffee and solve the problems of the world with a girlfriend, or spend 20 minutes on Facebook and goodness knows how many hours watching TV. Yet none of these activities is guaranteed to make you feel more focused, more relaxed or more capable than the simple process of meditation.

Meditation has been practised in China, India and Japan for thousands of years and has influenced most of the world’s major religions. These days, it’s practised by a wide range of people, from sports stars – who use it to facilitate injury repair – to cancer patients, and it’s available to anyone who can close their eyes and breathe. As renowned Chilean psychoanalyst, Dr Claudio Naranjo, says, ‘It’s always enjoyable to breathe’.

Reduce your stress levels
Meditation is becoming increasingly popular in Western society. The number one reason for this is that we lead such busy and stressful lives. Researchers define stress as a physical, mental or emotional response to events that cause bodily or mental tension. Simply put, stress is any outside force or event that has an effect on our body or mind.

When you're stressed, your brain sends signals to your adrenal glands, saying, ‘More energy, please! More adrenaline!’ But over time, stress and the release of too much adrenaline can cause a number of physiological changes, including increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, rapid breathing, increased stress-hormone release, sweating and weakened immunity to colds and viruses.

In your day-to-day life, you activate this stress and extra adrenaline through simple things such as getting stuck in traffic, arriving at work and having too many emails, receiving an expensive phone bill or having an argument with a loved one. You can use meditation to handle this stress by shifting your body into a state of restful awareness, where you’ll have a decreased heart rate, lower blood pressure, more relaxed breathing, reduced stress hormones, reduced sweating and strengthened immunity.

Another major benefit of practising meditation is that you’re able to turn off the voice in your head that has a running commentary, 24/7. It’s the constant chatter that doesn’t go away. It tells us what our fears and worries are. If we’re lucky, it will talk to us in a positive way. Many people fear this voice will prevent them from meditating, but it won’t. Learn to meditate and you’ll see the results – this voice can be quietened. You can still your mind.

Learn to look within
Through meditation, by using a mantra (a sound or a vibration which has no meaning so, therefore, has nothing to hold your attention) and focusing on your breathing, you can quieten the internal dialogue that keeps your mind active. When the voice in your head ceases, if only for a few moments, you’re able to get in touch with your core consciousness and be open to your creativity and imagination. On completion of your 20-minute meditation, you can bring these qualities, plus extra energy and relaxation, into your daily life. It’s easy to learn and you’ll be quick to benefit.

‘Most people think the purpose of meditation is to handle stress, to tune out and to get away from it all,’ explains Dr Deepak Chopra, the founder of Primordial Sound Meditation and author of more than 50 books. ‘This is only partially true. The real purpose of meditation is to tune in. It’s not to get away from it all, but to get in touch with it all.’

So what are you waiting for? It’s time to find 20 minutes each day so you can reduce stress and anxiety, sleep better and boost your confidence, wellbeing and motivation. You'll feel the benefits straightaway. Turn the page to see just how easy it is to meditate.

Signs of stress
n Tiredness, fatigue or disrupted sleep patterns
n Increased pulse rate and high blood pressure
n Shallow, rapid breathing
n Muscular tension
n Loss of appetite, overeating or digestion problems
n Constipation or diarrhoea
n A dry mouth
n Excessive perspiration or clamminess
n Nausea
n Irritability and impatience
n Frequent worry and anxiety
n Feeling moody, sad or upset
n Loss of sense of humour
n Poor concentration and lapses of memory
n Ambivalence
n Feeling overwhelmed by even minor problems
n Decreased libido
n Nail-biting
n Increased use of alcohol or other drugs

Benefits of meditation

n Reduces stress
n Enhances your wellbeing
n Cultivates an internal calmness and peace
n Makes you look younger
n Creates a stronger, quieter and more focused mind
n Awakens your intuition
n Improves your sleeping patterns and relaxation
n Enhances your ability to make effective decisions
n Promotes creativity
n Increases learning capabilities
n Improves concentration
n Increases alertness and energy during the day
n Improves your immune system and overall physical health
n Reduces anxiety
n Improves the quality of your relationships
n Gives you a more positive outlook on life
n Enhances your ability to listen to the needs of your body

How to meditate

Get comfortable. This is very important for effective meditation. You don’t want to be sitting still for 20 minutes and thinking that your legs, arms and bottom are hurting as it will prevent you from getting the full benefits. It’s best to sit in an upright position with good back support. Try sitting on a chair, on the sofa, against a wall or on your bed, and prop yourself up with plenty of pillows. Relax your whole body. You may also like to burn a candle and some incense, although this is optional.

Close your eyes and start gently and silently repeating the mantra, ‘Om’ or ‘So-hum’, to yourself. If you notice your mantra has drifted away and you are focusing on your thoughts or you’re listening to a noise outside, gently go back to repeating your mantra. Always favour your mantra over your thoughts or outside distractions. Continue this process for 20 minutes. Repeating your mantra helps to stop the constant flow of thoughts and allows you to still your mind. When there are no thoughts and no mantra, you'll be able to access your core consciousness, your creativity and your imagination.

After 20 minutes, stop repeating your mantra and take a few moments before you open your eyes. You’ll find that your body and your breathing will begin to settle down and you’ll feel more relaxed, calm and energised. You’ll notice benefits in other parts of your life, too.