Using meditation as a tool to combat stress
I’m Ailsa and I am delighted to call myself Acala’s resident Wellness Guru. I’m a Vinyasa Flow and Restorative Yoga teacher based in Bristol, UK. I love to write about all things related to living in a more mindful, ethical and kinder way for the planet.
I actually ‘met’ Hanna, founder of Acala on Instagram. A pretty modern way to meet someone! We met in ‘real life’ a few months later. It was so inspiring to meet someone so passionate about living in a more sustainable way. I’m very excited to be part of the Acala revolution in zero waste and plastic free living. As Acala helps you to reduce your plastic waste while enjoying high quality health and beauty products, I will be sharing some tips and thoughts on everything from meditation, mindfulness, yoga and everything else between to help you achieve your best life.
It seems fitting for us to start our wellness journey during Mental Health Awareness week. Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, the focus this year is on stress. The results of the Mental Health Foundation’s 2018 study shows that in the past year, 74% of people have felt so stressed that they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope. In addition, research has shown that two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetime, and stress is a key factor. Now, I am sure that it is no surprise to you considering these words have become especially media friendly of late but meditation and mindfulness can be a useful tool in your armour to help you to manage stress.
Meditation has its roots in Buddhist thought and theory. For thousands of years people have used meditation to move beyond the mind’s stress-inducing thoughts. Meditation only came to the West relatively recently though; popularised in the 1970s by University of Massachusetts professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, a cognitive scientist who founded the university Stress Reduction Clinic and Center for Mindfulness in Medicine.
Isn’t it just a waste of time to sit in stillness? That was my thought when I was getting heavily into yoga back in 2013. I was staying on a yoga retreat taking part in a volunteer exchange and yogis in various forms surrounded me; from yoga teachers, to yoga teacher trainees to other volunteers like myself. Each person I spoke to had different thoughts about meditation. I couldn’t get my head round it. I was so restless and constantly on the move; life needed to be lived and emptying my mind of thoughts seemed like a time-wasting and needless task.
Over my time spent at the yoga retreat though, I began to be more at ease with simply living my life rather than accounting for my life into time slots of achievement. I very much attribute this change to having a strong meditation and yoga practise.
After I left, I continued to practise yoga and meditated on and off. It wasn't until I undertook intensive yoga teacher training that meditation made a significant impact for me. The intensive training meant starting with half an hour of meditation at 7am and continued throughout the day with yoga practise, theory, philosophy and anatomy until 7pm at night. Then it was on to dinner, followed by ‘homework’. Intensive was definitely an appropriate term and meditation allowed me to have space in the day where I could be still, allow my thoughts to subside and to actually be alone. I don’t think I could have completed the course without the space that meditation created for me. Without it, I would have probably become completely overwhelmed.
Don’t let my word be the only thing that convinces you. The science of meditation is compelling. Have a look online and you will see thousands of articles listing the benefits and scientific studies analysing meditation. Researchers from the Benson-Henry Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital found that practising meditation creates a ‘relaxation response’ (the opposite of the ‘fight-or-flight’ response) and this reaction in the body alleviates anxiety and has positive impacts on heart rate, blood pressure, and brain activity.
Meditation can also help in the workplace. A 2012 study split a group of human resources managers into three; one third taking part in mindful meditation training, one third taking body relaxation training and the final third taking no training. After eight weeks of training, a stressful multi-tasking test was given to all managers. The group that had participated in the meditation training reported less stress in comparison to the other two groups.
The benefits of meditation extend far beyond stress management and help you physically, mentally, emotionally as well as spiritually. Next time you are feeling overwhelmed with life perhaps take a few moments to sit in stillness and consider the option of cultivating a daily 10-minute meditation practise to help you combat stress.
So how do you meditate?
Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing tips and tools to help you get started with meditation, so keep your eye on the Acala blog!