29 Aug Steps to Success – Step 12
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Today we will discuss three things that have really helped me in my life, so I wanted to share these with you. They are three daily practices which help me to reduce stress, increase concentration and my general health as well.
I started meditating about 2 years ago. At first, I was really sceptical. I always had in my head that this was something monks did under a tree, until I started trying it.
Now I think of it as a bit of quiet time with some massive benefits being both mental and physical, as follows:
- Reduces stress ? Time to switch off. All phones, computers, emails, all switched off. Studies have shown an improved ability to regulate the emotions in the brain from meditating, helping to reduce the levels of stress.
- Improved concentration – Meditation has been linked to a number of things that lead to increased ability to focus and improves memory. Greater concentration is related to the increased energy meditation provides to the prefrontal cortex which also helps impulse controls.
- Increased happiness – Studies have shown that brain signalling increases in the left side of the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for positive emotions, while activity decreases in the right side, responsible for negative emotions.
- Slows aging – Studies show that meditation tend to have more gray matter in their brain, literally, more brain cells. Meditators also have longer telomeres, the caps on chromosomes indicative of biological age (rather than chronological). While meditation won’t lengthen life, the increase in longer telomeres reduces stress and its effects on the body.
- Improved cardiovascular and immune health – Meditation induces relaxation, which increases the compound nitric oxide that causes blood vessels to open up and subsequently, blood pressure to drop. One study, published in 2008 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, showed that 40 of 60 high blood pressure patients who started meditating could stop taking their blood pressure medication. Meditation also improves immunity.
So how do you meditate? There isn’t one right way to do it, however if you are unsure you can follow this general outline:
- Sit or lie comfortably.
- Close your eyes.
- Make no effort to control the breath. Just take normal deep breaths.
- Focus your attention on the breath breathing in and out.
That’s it! It really is that simple so try to go for a few minutes to start with and built up over time. If you are having trouble getting started, there are plenty of options to help. There are applications which do guided sessions for beginners and also brainwave frequency applications to help as well.
At first, random thoughts will pop into your head however try to just let them go and focus on your breath again.
Breathing exercises in conjunction with meditation can have some great effects. I use two regularly between box breathing and the Wim Hof method.
Box breathing is a technique used in taking slow, deep breaths. This can heighten performance and concentration while also being a powerful stress reliever.
The technique involves breathing in deeply for four seconds, holding this breath for four seconds, releasing the breath over four seconds then holding for four seconds. That is one repetition which can be repeated for minutes at a time. It is recommended that this be done for at least five minutes to get the full effects.
I learnt about this when listening to a Navy SEAL talk about how they do this in their training to help remain calm in stressful situations.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there is sufficient evidence that intentional deep breathing can actually calm and regulate the autonomic nervous system. This system regulates involuntary body functions like temperature. It can lower blood pressure and provide an almost-immediate sense of calm. This will also reduce stress and improve your mood.
The Wim Hof method involves something called power breathing.
I heard about Wim, also known as the ‘Ice man’ through his amazing world records, with a few being:
- He can stay immersed in ice for 1 hour 13 minutes
- He can reach the top of Kilimanjaro barefoot wearing just shorts, in only two days.
- He also completed a full marathon above the polar circle in Finland where the temperature was as low as -20 degrees, dressed in only shorts.
He says that his breathing technique is the major reason he has been able to overcome such demanding physical challenges.
How this technique works:
1) Get comfortable – Sit in a meditation posture, whatever is most comfortable for you. Make sure you can expand your lungs freely without feeling any constriction. It is recommended to do this practice right after waking up since your stomach is still empty or before a meal.
2) 30 Power Breaths – Imagine you’re blowing up a balloon. Inhale through the nose or mouth and exhale through the mouth in short but powerful bursts. Keep a steady pace and use your midriff fully. Close your eyes and do this around 30 times. Symptoms could be light-headedness, tingling sensations in the body.
3) The Hold, retention after exhalation – After the 30 rapid successions of breath cycles, draw the breath in once more and fill the lungs to maximum capacity without using any force. Then let the air out and hold for as long as you can without force. Hold the breath until you experience the gasp reflex.
4) Recovery Breath – Inhale to full capacity. Feel your chest expanding. When you are at full capacity, hold the breath for around 10 seconds and this will be round one. The breathing exercise can be repeated 3 rounds after each other.
If you are after a tutorial on how this works, there are plenty on YouTube.
The second part of this comes from cold therapy, so I have a cold shower while doing the breathing exercises.
An affirmations is simply a positive statement that describe a desired situation or goal. If this is repeated often enough it becomes impressed on the subconscious mind. This then motivates, inspires, and programs the mind to act according to the repeated words.
So, how do you write your own affirmation?
- The first thing you need to do is to write down several areas or behaviour you’d like to work on.
- Write out an affirmation that offers you the positive flip-side of the area you want to work on.
- Write in the present tense as if it is already true.
- Make it personal using words that mean something to you.
- Repeat it multiple times a day.
For each of these positive, present-tense statement you can repeat to yourself several times a day. It’s also important that your affirmation is credible, believable, and based on a realistic assessment of fact. Telling yourself over and over again something positive will really help you in the long run. The more you tell yourself something, the more it becomes the truth.