Happy Wellness Wednesday!
Last week, I shared a bit of my personal experience on why I was hesitant to begin practicing meditation, and how I reluctantly started to meditate. This week, I want to talk about the factual reasons why I commit myself to this practice and hopefully inspire you to think about how it can benefit you and your life too.
With constant stimulus and distraction in all of our lives, such as social media and digital stress, being present becomes infinitely harder. Managing your stress and making time for yourself is key to a healthy state of mind and body. It is proven fact that your thoughts and mental health greatly affect your physical health, and vice versa, so we need to take that into consideration when we think about achieving optimal health on the grand scheme of things.
When you nurture and support your body and mind, it reciprocates.
So why have I chosen to make meditation into a consistent practice and why should you consider it? Here are 3 reasons:
1. Managing Stress
Time for a little nerd science! We all have sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems in our bodies:
- Our sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the "flight or fight" parts of our day and is activated by things like stress.
- Mouth going dry and heart racing because of a stressful meeting at work? Adrenaline for an event or competition making you jittery and hyper-alert? Those are all your sympathetic nervous system kicking up.
- Our parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the "rest and digest" parts of our day, and it controls our resting and repair systems. This is crucial to our mental and physical health, to recharge.
- All that work you did at the gym? Needs your parasympathetic nervous system to kick in the recovery process to build those hard-earned muscles. Crazy work week kicking your butt? Time for the parasympathetic nervous system to be activated so you can mentally recover to be on your A-game next week.
While we can tend to feel like superman, buzzing around being super productive and high-alert, when our sympathetic nervous system is activated, it takes a massive toll on our bodies.
We are all already aware that many illnesses and diseases stem from chronic stress. Heart and blood pressure issues, stomach + digestive issues, autoimmune disorders, energy levels, adrenal fatigue, are some of the more common ones nowadays.
Any and all activities we can do to activate our parasympathetic nervous systems is crucial to long-term health and balance. Whatever makes you feel truly relaxed, be it a massage, hanging out with friends, deep breathing, light recovery yoga, or... you guessed it: Meditation!
It's an quick way to dial in some recovery time for your body and clock in some parasympathetic nervous system activation. So why not?
2. Hormone Levels and Sleep
Sleep is so important and we all know this. As are balancing your hormones. Luckily and sometimes unluckily, these two go hand in hand!
Sleep is the top of a slippery slope of hormones. If you don't give your body sleep, down the hill we go of food cravings, fatigue, mental fogginess, moodiness, and all that yucky stuff.
So we should all get a good night's rest, yeah? If only if it were so easy for everyone.
There's a fickle little hormone called cortisol. Cortisol and adrenaline (hello sympathetic nervous system!) are best friends and they like to come calling immediately when stress rings the bell. They're like the partygoers who won't ever leave though, because they keep you up at night and don't allow sleep to happen. But actually. Cortisol also helps you retain that lovely abdominal (belly) fat, and makes it really difficult for people to lose weight in general. So fun!
So really, #1 and #2 on this list are intricately tied. Stress, hormones, and sleep are all a wicked cycle that depend on one another to function properly. Best thing we can do for ourselves? Managing that stress, and inviting parasympathetic nervous system in as much as possible with relaxing activities like meditation.
Me personally, I suffer from autoimmune issues and really depend on anything I can to keep a balance on my hormones so I will do anything I can to get that R&R that my body so needs.
3. The Ripple Effects on Thoughts + Behaviors
You ever notice that something frustrating or crappy happens, and you are super-reactive with a temper... but you only realize how you're acting after you already said things you now regret? How about being generally reactive to what people say? We like to call it, being "on edge."
Meditation helps me create a step in-between the incident and reactiveness. Instead of Step 1: incident happens and Step 2 being Minna losing her cool, only realizing it long after she acted impulsively, meditation has greatly helped me create an awareness of my present state of mind so that I can harness the ability to take a moment and a breath to let what just happened sink in. So it becomes Step 1: Incident Happens Step 2: Minna takes a breath and pause Step 3: Minna approaching a situation rather than reacting.
Not saying I hit it out of the park every time (not even close). but I truly do attribute a huge part of my awareness in how I'm feeling in the NOW instead of only realizing after the fact, in meditation's practice. It's something I have found truly beneficial in my life, and I continue to work on this.
The practice of meditation brings an awareness and slowing down (in a good way!) of your mind that helps bring clarity. There's a sense of more reliable calm when stressful things come calling, and there's a readiness that I feel to attend to these problems that I can see come from my meditation practices.
And by the way... I'm not even close to being the role model of meditation. Some days I miss my practice, some days I cannot manage this brain from whirring in all directions; but what's important is that I still keep showing up!