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Beginner’s Guide: The Top 3 Health Benefits of Meditation

Take 5 for the health benefits of meditation

You’ve heard a lot about the health benefits of meditation by now, right?

I know, I know, some of that has been from me, in previous blog posts… But I’m not alone in thinking that meditation can change the world, and change your own life in so many wonderful ways.

Every celebrity seems to be meditating these days. Hugh Jackman, Angelina Jolie, Clint Eastwood, Madonna, Jet li, Eva Mendes… the list goes on and on.

They all meditate daily, and quite a number of them attribute their success, health, energy and even their good looks to a regular practice that gives them all the benefits of meditation.

When you’re just starting out though, there’s a lot of information out there. It can all get a bit overwhelming.

Even later on for those of us who know what we’re looking at, there’s a lot to take in.

So let’s break down the top 3 health benefits of meditation. With sources, so you know we’re telling the absolute truth.

 

The Health Benefits of Meditation

Meditation Reduces Anxiety

Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress.

We all get anxious at times – it’s that feeling of fear and apprehension about what’s to come; the worry, over-thinking things and getting stuck in mental loops.

But if your feelings of anxiety are extreme, for example if they last for longer than six months, or if they’re interfering with how you live your life… you may have an anxiety disorder.

A report in 2014 looked at 16 studies among 1,295 participants, examining the effects of the ‘transcendental meditation’ technique on people with anxiety.

First of all, the meditation technique absolutely did no harm. I mean, that’s important when you’re dealing with cases of chronic anxiety, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, and prison inmates in extremely stressful conditions.

Did it do any good though?

“Conclusion: Transcendental Meditation practice is more effective than treatment as usual and most alternative treatments, with greatest effects observed in individuals with high anxiety”. (Orme-Johnson & Barnes, 2014)

Meditation Decreases Depression

Depression is a mental health condition which can affect your thinking, energy, feelings and behaviour.

It’s really common (about 1 in 10 people are suffering from it at any one time, though in many it comes and goes seemingly at random through our lives), and can vary from mild to severe.

Depression can have a profound impact, affecting every aspect of our lives, our relationships, our work and of course, will also have a knock-on effect on the rest of our health.

A report in 2015 looked at 18 studies among 1,173 patients having acute major depressive episodes, and those with residual subacute clinical symptoms despite initial treatment. So, those in the midst of full scale depression, and those with on-going regular symptoms.

The studies covered 7 distinct meditation techniques, with mindfulness based meditation making up the largest proportion of studies.

They found that there were “moderate to large reductions in depression symptoms within the group” and they concluded that there is “a substantial body of evidence [which] indicates that meditation therapies may have positive effects on patients with clinical depressive disorders, during the acute and subacute phases of treatment.” (Fain, Walsh, et al, 2015)

Meditation Improves Sleep

Ever suffer from insomnia?

About half of us will, at some point in our lives.

For some people, it’s an ongoing issue through our whole lives. Insomnia is the most common reported sleep disorder, and there are limited treatment options (which mostly involve medication).

Now, don’t think for a second that there’s anything wrong with taking medication. That’s unusual to hear from an ‘alternative therapy’ source right?

The way we see it though, there are a lot of mental health and situational conditions people go through in their lives that require standard medical intervention. We’d never interfere with that, no more than we’d advise anyone to stop taking heart medication if they had a heart condition, or chemotherapy if they needed that for cancer treatment.

Standard medical practice saves (and improves the quality of) lives every day. Where we see a problem is if that’s viewed as the one and ONLY way to treat or support a person, which sadly is often the case.

But it doesn’t have to be.

A 2014 study looked at the treatment of 54 adults with chronic insomnia, to evaluate the efficacy of mindfulness meditation for the treatment of their chronic insomnia.

Some meditated, and some didn’t, to provide a control or comparison group. The participants who meditated used either a mindfulness based stress reduction technique (like our 5 Minute Body Scan, only a bit longer), or a mindfulness based therapy specifically designed for insomnia.

“Conclusion: Mindfulness meditation appears to be a viable treatment option for adults with chronic insomnia, and could provide an alternative to traditional treatments for insomnia.” (Ong, Manber, et al, 2014)

 

There are many, many more benefits to a regular meditation practice, and many different techniques and systems you can try to access the benefits of meditation for yourself.

Why not give our free Guided Meditation mini course a go, and get some of the health benefits of meditation in your own life?

 Irish Otherworld Journeys – Getting Started Mini Course 

 

References

Jain, F. A., Walsh, R. N., Eisendrath, S. J., Christensen, S., & Cahn, B. R. (2015, 03). Critical Analysis of the Efficacy of Meditation Therapies for Acute and Subacute Phase Treatment of Depressive Disorders: A Systematic Review. Psychosomatics, 56(2), 140-152. doi:10.1016/j.psym.2014.10.007

Ong, J. C., Manber, R., Segal, Z., Xia, Y., Shapiro, S., & Wyatt, J. K. (2014, 09). A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Insomnia. Sleep, 37(9), 1553-1563. doi:10.5665/sleep.4010

Orme-Johnson, D. W., & Barnes, V. A. (2014, 05). Effects of the Transcendental Meditation Technique on Trait Anxiety: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 20(5), 330-341. doi:10.1089/acm.2013.0204

 

What Is Meditation and How Do You Do It?

I am Peace Meditation

When I started studying psychology in 2011, with the National University of Ireland in Maynooth, I was very surprised to see ‘mindfulness’ on our lesson plan for the first term.

You see, I knew mindfulness was a form of meditation, because I’d been practicing it in a spiritual context since 1994, when I’d picked up my first book on Paganism.

I knew that science (yes, naysayers, psychology is a science!) didn’t usually give much credence to Pagan practices… so I was both fascinated and delighted to find it right there in front of me in class.

Legitimised!

As my studies continued (and to be honest, they’ve never really stopped, though I’m not in formal education anymore), I became more and more enthralled with the science of meditation, and the benefits of a regular meditation practice. I had a key question that I keep revisiting – what is meditation, and how do you do it?

And that’s never stopped either!

But yeah, what is Meditation, exactly?

You’ll hear people talk a lot about different techniques of meditation (mindfulness is one of them, for example), and different types of meditation (meditation for sleep, meditation for relaxation, meditation for anxiety or stress relief, and so on)… but at its essence, what you are trying to do when you meditate is to reach a place of deep peace, with your mind being calm and silent, yet completely alert.

Meditation then, is the practice of methods that can be used to reach this place or achieve this state.

To get there, we can use any number of techniques. Honestly, the range of practices available can be entirely overwhelming. Meditation has been practiced for as long as we know, in a number of ancient religions and belief systems. Personally, I believe every ancient culture had its own form of ‘meditation’, though our ancestors wouldn’t have called it that.

The English word meditation is derived from the Latin meditatio, from a verb meditari, which means ‘to think, contemplate, devise, ponder’ (Bailey, 1776).

So, as far as meditation techniques and practices go, the WORD meditation is relatively new.

But the formal definition we have now, runs like this:

“Meditation: to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.” (Merriam-Webster, 2018)

Since the 1800s, people in industrialised cultures have been picking up the practice with the aim of reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and pain… and increasing peace, perception and wellbeing (Shaner, Kelly, et al, 2016).

(You can see where I’m coming from and what’s available in This Article Here.)

What are some Common Meditation Techniques?

Mindfulness, as mentioned, is gaining a fantastic reputation over the last 20 years or more, for being a science-based meditation technique, with a focus on the health and wellness benefits of a regular meditation practice (although the spiritual aspects certainly follow through with this method too).

Jon Kabat-Zinn, who founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme in 1979, has defined mindfulness as ‘moment to moment non-judgmental awareness’ (Kabat-Zinn, 2015).

We can sit or lie down, set some time aside and devote our attention to the mindfulness meditation by using body scan techniques, or observing as our thoughts arise and letting them go.

Or we can practice mindfulness day to day as we go about our lives, for example by focusing our attention on sensations of heat or cold in our bodies as we experience them, or by becoming fully aware of the taste, smell and texture of food as we eat it.

If you’d like to try some free ‘Ground Level’ meditation exercises, you can find them as part of our Getting Started Course – to get the benefits of mindfulness meditation for yourself…

Enroll in our Simple, Free Mini Course to Get You Started with Guided Meditation Journeys Here.

 

 

References

Bailey, N. (1776). The new universal etymological English dictionary … To which is added, a dictionary of cant words. By N. Bailey. Printed for William Cavell.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2015, 10). Mindfulness. Mindfulness, 6(6), 1481-1483. doi:10.1007/s12671-015-0456-x

Meditate. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meditate

Shaner, L., Kelly, L., Rockwell, D., & Curtis, D. (2016, 07). Calm Abiding. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 57(1), 98-121. doi:10.1177/0022167815594556

 

Learning Meditation – Start Here!

Level One Guided Meditation Journeys - Lora O'Brien

Meditation and mindfulness are vital parts of any Pagan practice, and often they are either ignored by teachers, or it’s presumed that a student will simply… know how to do it.

Spoiler: most Western people don’t just *know* how to do meditation.

It’s a discipline which takes years to build: starting with simple breathing and visualisation exercises, and moving on to more involved practice such as guided meditation and Journeying in other worlds, for learning and healing purposes (primarily).

I’ve been actively meditating as part of my personal spiritual practice for over 22 years, and have been teaching my own Meditation and Guided Journeying technique – online and in person – to international audiences since 2013.

My basic technique was developed for beginners, over the course of a 20+ year personal journey, and in line with psychological best practice, to make relaxing meditation and Journeying in the Irish otherworld safe and accessible for everyone.

Guided Meditation is probably the most widely relatable and understood term for how I teach you to Journey in the Irish Otherworld, which comes easily and quickly after building a foundational daily meditation habit.

 

Journeying in the Irish Otherworld

The Guided Meditation system you can learn with me is unique, and strongly rooted in my native Irish culture.

We start at Ground Level, and later levels fulfil a deep spiritual longing for ancestral connection and continuance, while the foundations you can build on will remain useful and suitable for anyone who just wants to learn a practical way to meditate – particularly if you’ve never been able to do that before!

We begin with simple, easy relaxation and mindfulness meditations, to build a habit and develop the necessary skillset to progress. This is ‘Ground Level’, if you like, for the complete beginner – or those who want to take a refresher with a new voice. As a bonus, it’s all done with my soothing Irish accent. 😉

  • Ground Level practice offers daily exercises for Mindful Breathing, Body Scanning, and moving into a Relaxed Darkness that will prepare you for further Journeying.
  • Level One progresses to exploring our inner selves and how we relate to the world, and other people, in the setting of a soothing beach.
  • Level Two introduces you to the Islands of the Irish Otherworld, and how to work with them to create a safe and practical workspace.
  • Leve Three travels further into the Irish Otherworld, exploring the stories, mythology; the teaching themes and methods of ancient Draoí, the Druids of Old Ireland.

As the Irish Pagan School curriculum progresses, more courses will be offered that will build a solid meditation and mindfulness practice for anyone willing to put in the work. The benefits of meditation are immense, and I will be expanding on them as we go through this series of articles.

Currently, the Ground Level exercises, as well as our Level One Introductory Class and Guided Meditation Journey to the Beach, are available completely free in the Irish Otherworld Journeys – Getting Started Mini Course on the Irish Pagan School.

CLICK TO ENROLL IN THE COURSE – FREE!

When you have completed the classes and practiced the meditation techniques at Ground Level and Level One, there are other options for you to learn from, such as the Level Two: Irish Otherworld Journeys – Next Steps.

Why are you offering a free Guided Meditation Course – What’s the Catch?

I am a Priest and a Draoí of the Old Religion of Ireland. As such, I have a duty of service and responsibility to my community, and to any who want to connect to Ireland in an authentic way.

Yes, I could charge for the free courses I offer through the Irish Pagan School. To be honest, I think folk might appreciate them more, and do more work with the materials, if they were paying for it. 🤷‍♀️ Such is the nature of humanity!

BUT, there’s plenty to pay for if you want to support the work I do. This one is a gift from a Draoí, for free.

Enroll in our Simple, Free Mini Course to Get You Started with Guided Meditation Journeys Here.