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health goals

The Power of Meditation

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The Power of Meditation

For thousands of years, cultures all over the world have used forms of meditation to promote inner wellness and healing. It turns out that our ancestors were on to something! Spiritual leaders, therapists, and scientists can now agree that meditation has real, quantified benefits for a variety of problems. Over the last few decades, research around meditation, the brain, and negative symptoms have shown some incredible effects.

 

MRI scans of active meditators have actually documented how meditation changes the brain. To put it simply, our brains have neurological pathways that physically change with our thought patterns. If you imagine consciousness as a wide open “field” that can be walked in any direction, repetitive thoughts actually wear neurological “paths” that act like shortcuts. If these thoughts are focused on pain/negativity/anxiety/etc, the brain may find itself treading down these shortcuts over and over again, because they are literally the path of least resistance. Meditation essentially helps the brain wear alternative trails in the “field”, making it easier to focus on positivity, calmness, or other objectives. Like exercise, the new pathways get stronger with practice.

 

This research has real-world consequences. In particular, pain doctors looking for alternatives to opiates and other narcotic medication have been exploring the power of meditation for their patients; meditation has now emerged as a legitimate treatment option. Studies have documented how mindfulness meditation in particular can actually reduce physical discomfort by changing neurological pathways. With instruction and practice, this type of meditation can be a useful way to ease pain or discomfort, especially in the case of chronic pain. Mindfulness training can physically help the brain dampen pain signals without the risks associated with heavy-duty pharmaceuticals; it can be used on its own or as a way to reduce reliance on pain medicine.

 

Besides its usefulness for pain, research has also shown that meditation is a proven way to help with:

  • PTSD and phobias

  • Anxiety and depression

  • Decreasing heart rate and blood pressure

 

If you’re looking to harness the incredible possibilities of meditation for your own brain, where should you start? There are literally dozens of types of meditation techniques for all skill levels. Some of the most popular (and accessible) techniques are mindfulness, active meditation, or guided meditation.

Mindfulness sounds deceptively easy: it involves learning to “sit with” and observe thoughts as they come in the moment. Instead of trying to control thoughts, mindfulness focuses on simply accepting things as they are in the present moment. Sometimes essential oils, cold water, or other environmental cues are used to help the practitioner stay focused.

Active meditation is like it sounds: it helps the practitioner focus on physical movement as a way to stay in the present moment. Walking meditation is most common, but other movement like yoga, running, or even gardening can serve the same purpose.

Guided meditation can be done with a teacher or at home with a podcast or app. Because there are prompts to help with focus, guided meditation is a great way for beginners to learn how to calm and quiet their minds.   

 

Whether you’re looking to address a specific concern or just want to increase your happiness, meditation is an incredibly powerful tool to add to your wellness arsenal. The best part is that it’s free and can be practiced anywhere; there’s no better time than now to try it out for yourself.

Author: Natalie Millis

Author: Natalie Millis

 

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New Year, New You? Think Again! Learn the Right Way to Set Goals for the New Year

New Year, New You? Think Again! Learn the Right Way to Set Goals for the New Year

The new year is a great time to reassess your life and set new goals, right? Well, sort of. Studies have shown that more than half of people who made a resolution have given up only one month into the New Year! The problem is, it’s really tough to give up bad habits and overly-ambitious goals can quickly lead to a searing sense of failure. If you’re having trouble staying motivated, or don’t even know where to begin, it’s not too late to try again. To make your goals actually stick this year, try some of these tips and tricks from psychologists and successful business owners.

 

The S.M.A.R.T. method is a great way to structure your resolution(s). It was originally developed for businesses and organisations, but can easily be applied to personal goals, too. Remember that it’s also preferable to focus on one goal (or related goals like diet and exercise) instead of trying to change every area of your life at once!  

 

S: Specific. Is your goal clearly defined? Psychologists have found that without a specific target, it’s much easier to lose your way and give up. So get specific: replace “get fit” with “be able to complete a 5k run 3 months from now.”  

 

M: Measurable. Make sure there are clear milestones, or you won’t see your progress. Measuring progress is a crucial way to stay motivated. Think “drop 5kg by March” instead of “lose weight.” This will allow you to break up a bigger goal into smaller, do-able pieces. Mentally, this makes goals much easier to achieve.  

 

A: Attainable. This may seem obvious, but make sure that your goal is reachable. There is a difference between challenging yourself and setting yourself up for failure with an impossible objective. Even with the best training, you realistically can’t expect to be able to run a marathon two months from now if you’ve been sitting on a couch for the last year. If you’re set on an ambitious goal, it may be worthwhile to check in with a relevant professional (dietician, personal trainer, financial planner, etc).  

 

R: Relevant. Is the goal you’ve set something you’re doing for yourself, or for others? If you’re more worried about getting a magazine-worthy beach bod than improving your general physical health, you may find yourself discouraged. Take an inventory of why you’ve chosen this particular goal. Shallow reasons tend to be poor motivators in the long term.

 

T: Timely. Make sure your goal(s) has a specific timeframe. Without dates, it’s hard to keep track of progress, which means it’s hard to hold yourself accountable. Having deadlines is a huge benefit that will help you stick to your goals. It may help to tie your goal to natural deadlines: if you’re trying to get your finances organised, make sure it’s done a month before taxes are due. If you’re trying to change your diet, activity level, or other behavior for the long-term, schedule a time every day to briefly journal about your progress.

 

It may seem silly or excessive to follow such an extensive set of “rules” for your resolution, but this method has been backed up by behavioral scientists. The more specific structure you have, the more likely you are to stay on track. Finally, instead of quantity of goals, remember to focus on quality. Then get SMART and enjoy the results you desire!

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Author: Natalie Millis