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Over recent years there has been an increasing amount of research to support the fact that meditation can help improve mental health. Today, mindfulness based cognitive therapy is being embraced by the NHS, and there are organisations and products entering the market in an attempt to bring meditation, or its modern variation, mindfulness into the mainstream. So what exactly is meditation or mindfulness and how can it help to improve your mental health?
There are many different forms of meditation, some more religious or spiritual than others, but in essence they all have a number of common factors.
Meditation Focuses The Mind
Most forms of meditation involve sitting and focusing the mind on a particular subject. Focusing on breath is a common starting point, as breath is constant, and something we all do naturally. By paying attention to our breath and training our minds to remain focused on the one subject, we learn to quieten our minds and discipline our thinking to one subject. As the mind wanders and jumps around to an array of subjects, through meditation we learn to gently reign it in and bring it back to the subject of meditation, in this case our breath. When practiced on a regular basis this enables us to develop the art of focusing on a daily basis.
Meditation Helps Us To Respond, Rather Than React
Through meditation we learn to “watch” our thoughts without reacting to them. We create a certain element of detachment, so that our thoughts do not provoke reactive emotions. By developing the ability to observe rather than react, we learn to respond to our thoughts in a more proactive and positive manner. Much of our behaviour that results in stress and suffering comes from the way that we react to thoughts and situations, rather than the situations themselves. By practicing meditation we learn to choose our response and can therefore intervene to prevent negative reactions and emotions.
Meditation Helps Us to Develop Acceptance
Many of us struggle to sit with pain, and a lot of mental ill health is created by our inability to accept suffering. Sometimes there may be a genuine reason for suffering, such as the loss of someone close to us, or a situation that saddens us. Through meditation we learn to sit with the pain and accept it. Rather than seeking ways to avoid suffering through escapism, with mindfulness and meditation, we learn to become aware of the pain, accept it, and nurture ourselves accordingly.
Mindfulness Is The Art of Being Present in The Moment
Ultimately all meditation leads to mindfulness, the art of being present in the moment and accepting what is. As the majority of us spend so much time thinking about the past or the future, we lose touch with where we actually are in the here and now, and don’t experience each moment fully. Meditation helps us to develop mindfulness, by spending more time with ourselves and surroundings, and thereby becoming more self aware and appreciative of our every day experience. We master the art of accepting things the way they are instead of constantly trying to change things, and thereby develop a more peaceful mind. If you are constantly trying to change things, you are in essence telling yourself that the present is not enough, and therefore depriving yourself of the joy of now.
So Does Meditation Hold The Key To Mental Health?
If I could harness the ability to focus my mind when it insists on jumping from thought to thought
If I developed the practice of taking a deep breath and choosing to respond rather than react to any given situation
If I were able to sit and accept all pain and suffering rather than seek out ways to “run away”
And if I were able to fully experience and appreciate every moment rather than being caught up in where I’m going or where I’ve been….
Well – I recon I’d pretty much master my mental health! What about you?