Daydreams: Moments of Meditation
Elfy Scott takes us through her thoughts on mediation and why we should take the time incorporate it into our lives.
When one thinks of the word meditation, the images most often elicited are generally somewhere along the lines of hard-core Buddhists in transcendental states, third eyes, or perhaps long torturous silent meditation retreats in the Blue Mountains where you’re only permitted various forms of lentil for approximately ten days and, I have to admit, that is still largely my perception of the practice. When people first started informing me that I should “learn to breathe”, I was deeply cynical, I think it sounded somewhere along the lines of saying that I needed to learn how to eat and walk – a painfully absurd proposition that would not help me in the slightest.
However, between working seven-day weeks and spending the greater portion of my time maniacally checking my phone like some sort of obsessive rodent, the concept of meditation has cropped up again and again as something that could help to cool down the days and calm down my absolutely frantic lifestyle. In fact, with 24-hour accessibility from work issues as a result of our comprehensive reliance on technology, it seems only natural that we need to find a way to ‘shut down’ and reconnect with more simplistic notions of simply ‘being’ and not emailing, texting and checking Instagram every 30-45 seconds (all of which I absolutely do).
I live my life at a fast pace and I find it incredibly fulfilling to be busy but naturally this begins to take a toll. Long-term stress can have a number of worrying consequences on your body including suppression of the immune system, increased susceptibility to heart attack and failure, as well as an inability to adequately form or retrieve memories in the brain. Earlier this year I decided to start taking action against the stress in my life and pursuing meditative techniques to try and combat the frantic nature of my schedule and habits.
As an absolute amateur to the tranquillity game, I began by taking a number of small steps that I thought would assist me on my way to meditation including quiet behaviours such as turning my phone and laptop off for two hour periods at a time when I got home in the evenings to maintain some sense of peace. I also began to engage more with nature and made the conscientious effort to go on bushwalks more often, with the idea of exploring the world more being both an exciting prospect and fulfilling my need to remove myself from the chaotic environment of the CBD that I’m constantly immersed in.
After a few weeks of getting used to the process of ‘switching off’ – if only in a light-hearted way – I also began to dip my toe into the world of meditation. While we might have associations with meditation that hinge on religious spirituality, the fact is that practicing meditation can have fantastic health and psychological benefits, all compounded by decades of scientific research.
When we meditate, we are allowing our bodies to relax into the parasympathetic nervous system, in which our heart rates slow, our bodies conserve energy, and there is an increase in intestinal and gland activity.
Meditation is a powerful tool that allows us to increase immune function, decrease levels of physical pain, as well as decrease inflammation at the cellular level in our bodies. The act of meditation also has the ability to literally change the structure of one’s brain, increasing grey matter and consequently, the ability to focus, multi-task, store memory, and produce creative, original thoughts. MRI scans of frequently-meditating Tibetan Buddhist monks has also discovered an increase in the size of the left prefrontal cortex, the place in the brain that’s attributed to our sense of happiness.
Meditation can make you healthier, more focused and happier but there are still so many misconceptions associated with it. For example, it’s not necessary at all to set aside hours of your day for meditation alone, in fact, it’s absolutely effective to meditate for anywhere from a few minutes to ten minutes, you shouldn’t place any stress whatsoever on your ability to do it for longer. It is also not necessary to sit in any particular position – sitting and running through breathing exercise with your legs crossed, sitting upright in a chair or even lying down are all equally effective (unless of course you have a tendency to immediately fall asleep when lying down as I do).
To learn how to meditate, I found it easy to find extremely simple steps online that walked you through breathing techniques, preliminary body scans and mindfulness exercises. Even as a beginner, I find that I can notice a profound difference in my thoughts when I walk away from a short session of breathing exercises and my energy is generally lifted for the rest of the day. You don’t have to put on a robe, you don’t have to light incense and you certainly don’t have to try it out for a week straight but I would absolutely recommend meditation to everybody; incorporating the practice into your daily routine is a wholly rewarding experience and should be more widely embraced, especially amongst a generation that’s surgically attached to our iPhone screens and emails.