Tuesday 17 December 2013

Guest Post by The Brilliant Shawngela Pierce

Meditation and Mental Health Issues

Before we get into our discussion about meditation and mental health issues, let’s first discuss meditation and its many benefits. While there are many ways to define meditation, I like to define it as focus. It is focus to the extent that all external stimuli diminish outside of where your focus is directed. Whether you are focused on your breath, a mantra, a visualization, your movement, a scripture, etc., you are still focused on just that.

Now, what is the purpose of this “extreme” focus. This extreme focus causes your mind to quiet. Now why is that important? Well, your thoughts affect your health, physically and mentally. Your body doesn't know the difference between what it sees and what it is experiencing. If you are lying in bed or just wake up in the morning thinking about a stressful situation, your body is undergoing physiological changes. Your heart rate is increasing, your blood pressure is rising and other sympathetic events are occurring. The same physiological reaction occurs if you were actually in the situation. As you can clearly see, your thoughts are affecting your health. Which means all of your thoughts from the moment you awaken to the moment that you fall asleep.

Meditation affects the body in exactly the opposite ways that stress does. When you meditate on a regular basis, your body will be restored to a calm state, your mind clears, the body will repair itself, your immune function will increase and new damage due to the effects of stress is prevented. As you meditate, your heart rate and breathing slow down, your blood pressure normalizes, you use oxygen more efficiently, you sweat less and your adrenal glands produce less cortisol. When you meditate, you learn to ground yourself and literally get out of your mind. This releases you from the borage of negative thoughts that cause a stress response. Overtime, there is a shift into a more quiet, focused and tranquil mind.

In addition to all of these benefits, there is recent evidence that meditation effects your gene expression. In the study a group of experienced meditators practiced mindfulness over an 8-hour period while the control group simply engaged in quiet non-meditative activities. The genes of both were tested beforehand with no differences, however, after the 8-hour period, there was a decrease in expression of inflammatory genes for the experienced meditators. Despite having the same genetic makeup the expression in the region associated with inflammation was decreased. That is pretty amazing to me and something I have held as true for many years. Meditation can affect your genes. Now that is something you cannot bottle in a pill.

It is in my opinion that all mental health issues can benefit from meditation. The extent to which one will benefit can, of course, be debated. Despite this, meditation should definitely be in your "toolbox" that you use to treat your mental health issue. Meditation does not have to be the soul treatment, it is a good idea to use meditation as a complement to whatever treatment you are undergoing or that you plan to undergo. Many causes of mental health are exasperated by your thoughts and stress. If you learn to dissipate those thoughts, you will feel a tremendous benefit in your mental health.

I will caution though that people with depression, past experiences of trauma or mental illnesses that often lead to addictions, may find themselves feeling increasingly anxious during meditation, no matter how much they try to focus on the moment. Or they may be plagued by intrusive thoughts, feelings and images of the past during their meditation exercises. For these individuals or for those who feel they need more guidance, it is best to find an experienced meditation instructor. There are ways and techniques that you can use to help guide you through these moments of getting “stuck” in ruts like rumination. An expert can let you know what to expect and offer emotional support to help you get through the rough spots.

About The Author
Shawngela Pierce is an educator, author, reiki practitioner, business owner and meditation instructor who specializes in mindfulness meditation and qigong (chee gong). She is an avid meditator with a daily meditation practice of over 2 hours. She has a masters degree in the field of education with 3 1/2 years of post-masters education in naturopathic medicine. This includes mind-body therapy, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), botanical medicine, nutrition, hydrotherapy as well as other healing modalities. She loves teaching, which is something she has done for over 15-years. She designed the Meditation for Health Program to help people utilize the benefits of meditation as well as other holistic lifestyle changes to live a harmonious and care-free life. 

You can find Shawngela at +Seek Within You | Meditation for Health


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