You might be asking yourself what a blog about mindful meditation is doing on an herbalist’s blog post? As an herbalist and a healer, I understand that you need much more than herbs for achieving wellbeing. In fact, nobody got dis-eased because they did not use calendula or licorice. But many of us are unwell because of:
- Unbalanced diet
- Lack of movement
- Toxin exposure
In my experience, much of the stress that happens in my life is not because of the outer experiences of my everyday life but defined by the stories I tell myself in my head. For most of us, there is no moment of peace in our lives.
If you reflect on your life, do you find that on most days, your schedule is so busy from the moment you get up in the morning to the time that you collapse into your bed at night?
Alongside the business of your everyday life, your mind keeps busy too. While driving to work, you might be planning your workday or making some phone calls, during work, you might plan your supper, and on your way home, you might continue an argument that you had with your colleagues at work (damn, I should have told him that…)
Your mind seems to have a life of its own. Most of the time, you are not even aware of the constant chatter in your brain. It seems that we spend a large part of our lives on automatic piloting. When the body and mind do not align together, your wellbeing is compromised.
Integrative body-mind medicine uses meditation for people presenting with a range of chronic stress and pain-related disorders, and chronic diseases. What if I told you that by calming the monkey chatter in your mind, that by letting go of the past and not worrying about the future, you could find peace, reduce stress, increase clarity and focus, and support your immune system Taming the monkey in your head might seem an impossible task, but a daily practice of mindful meditation can help you bring more quiet moments to your life.
What is mindful meditation?
Mindfulness is a type of meditation where you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.
Diana Winston of UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center gives my favorite definition: Paying attention to present moment experience with open curiosity and a willingness to be with what is.
Some of the benefits of mindful meditation:
- Mindful meditation helps reduce pain.
- Mindful meditation was shown to reduce cardiovascular reactivity, including high blood pressure in people that were exposed to stress.
- Mindful meditation is beneficial in reducing the symptoms of subclinical depression and anxiety and can substantially reduce stress.
- Mindful meditation was proven to improve focus. By improving focus, the clarity of perception and attention to details was enhanced, leading to improved working memory.
How does mindful meditation reduce stress and anxiety?
The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your body. It connects your brain to many vital organs throughout the body, including the gut (intestines, stomach), heart, and lungs. The word “vagus” means “wanderer” in Latin, accurately describing how the nerve wanders from the brain to the torso and reaches various organs including the heart, lungs, and digestive tract. The vagus nerve plays a vital part of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system. It influences your breathing, digestive function, and heart rate, all of which can have a huge impact on your mental health. What you really need to pay special attention to is the “tone” of your vagus nerve. Vagal tone is an internal biological process that represents the activity of the vagus nerve. Increasing your vagal tone activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and having a higher vagal tone means that your body can relax faster after stress.
“The vagal response reduces stress. It reduces our heart rate and blood pressure. It changes the function of certain parts of the brain, stimulates digestion, all those things that happen when we are relaxed.” — Dr. Mladen Golubic, MD, Medical Director of the Cleveland Clinic.
Your vagal tone can be measured by tracking specific biological processes such as your heart rate, breathing rate, and heart rate variability (HRV). When your heart rate variability (HRV) is high, your vagal tone is also high. They are correlated with each other. Research shows that meditation increases vagal tone and positive emotions and promotes goodwill towards yourself. Another study found that meditation reduces sympathetic “fight or flight” activity and increases vagal modulation.
How to practice mindful meditation
The first thing to know about practicing mindfulness is that you need to let go of all expectations. Most times, expectations work like a curtain; they veil what is truly happening at the moment. Instead of being present at the moment with your experience, you are busy searching for a particular sensation and being disappointed when you do not “feel it”. Instead, approach mindful meditation with openness and curiosity. This is true even if you practice meditation every day.
Every time you practice is a fresh experience with an opportunity for a new lesson. I love to practice with mindful meditation teacher Manoj Diaz. Here is a link to some of his free guided meditation recordings on YouTube. When I work with clients or groups in my program, I emphasize mindset as the foundation for any lifestyle change. Practicing mindfulness allows me and you to approach everything in life with curiosity and hope.
Mindful practice gives you the opportunity to experience beauty and joy in everyday life events. The simple acts of a meal, a conversation or a walk in the woods become an adventure when it is fully experienced. It has the power to satiate your hunger both physically and emotionally. Mindfulness gives you one moment between cause and reaction. A brief time to take a deep breath, tune to the moment to my thoughts, feelings, and physical sensation in a way that creates a response that addresses the essence of who you are. It will empower you to tame your thoughts and feelings so that you can recognize them as separate from who you are. There is a lot of freedom in it.
In the 4th week of the program Aging With Grace – The Wise Women Way to Holistic Wellness at any Age, I speak to the importance of reducing stress for better well-being and give a tool kit to help you do just that.