07 Apr How can Meditation help your Gut?
In the centre of every stressful storm there is a place of total stillness: the ‘eye’. In my life, I have found meditation to be one of the most powerful tools for creating this sense of peace within, even when the world around is in a state of tremendous flux or sometimes, even, chaos. Building a meditation practice is a bit like building a deposit account that you can withdraw from in times of need.
You cannot control what happens outside yourself or what happens to you in life, but you can control your internal state of mind and how you react to negative things. How you respond to stressful situations is really the only thing that you do have control over. Worrying, getting angry and having arguments cannot change events that have already happened. They can only damage you by releasing stress hormones into your body, and the immune and digestive systems are those that suffer the most.
The breath is how you access your still and quiet self via meditation.
By paying attention to the breath you bring the mind into the present moment in meditation, which is a wonderful thing because in it you find no worry and no suffering. So much of our time is spent in the future, worrying about careers and important life choices, perhaps, or spent in the past, going over negative events that have already happened, which we regret and feel that we could have done better with.
In my life, I have found meditation to be one of the most powerful tools for creating this sense of peace within.
“Meditation is like drawing water from
a well. You build up
the water levels in the well over time, and
then when you need water you can draw it from the well. As you practise meditation you are contributing to the water levels of your well.”
As part of the my book, “Mind Body Cleanse” (Penguin books) I include a meditation to kickstart your day. This is a great way to become present in your own body and mind and your own life. You can tune in to what is best for you and connect with your gut feelings. Your gut can only benefit from the reduction in stress hormones.
The Benefits of Meditation
The flight-or-flight triggers in modern life have never been greater. While we rely on this rush of endorphins to get through hairy situations, remaining in a constant heightened state of alert is damaging to health.
As you gain experience in meditation, you will gradually gain increased awareness of when you are either tense or relaxed, so that you can take steps to calm down when you begin to notice signs of stress.
* stops the release of harmful stress hormones that lower metabolism, energy levels, and even cause premature ageing.
* regulates the heart rate and blood pressure
* facilitates digestion
* increases absorption of nutrients.
Stress and the Gut
Stress is a huge factor in how your gut behaves, or misbehaves, and at the root of stress is the fight-or-flight response – an adaptive reaction that through the ages served to protect us from emergency situations. The fight-or-flight response is controlled by stress hormones such as cortisol. If left unchecked, this response in the body can cause gut problems, numbness, memory issues and insomnia. It is vitally important to counterbalance this response with relaxation – and meditation is perfect for bringing this about.
Meditation is an art that calms the soul and relaxes the mind, promoting an internal mental spaciousness in which troubles and fears no longer seem so menacing. Creative answers can naturally develop besides a confident detachment that provides better objectivity, perspective and the ability to concentrate.
Worrying and getting angry does not change the external events that have come about. In fact, they damage you by producing stress hormones and putting you in fight-or-flight mode, which puts your immune system and gut on high alert.
Meditation can take you out of that stressful state and into a state of peace, acceptance and gratitude.
It has also been demonstrated that meditation increases brain size. Researchers at Harvard, Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found the first evidence that meditation can alter the physical structure of our brains and brain scans revealed that experienced meditators boasted increased thickness in parts of the brain that deal with attention and processing sensory input.
The structure of an adult brain can change in response to repeated practice of meditation. In one area of grey matter, the thickening turned out to be more pronounced in older than in younger people. Normally those sections of the human cortex become thinner as we age. The implication is that meditation may help slow some aspects of cognitive ageing. This is why Buddhist monks and yogis often enjoy an increased capacity for attention and memory in old age.
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For your top tips on creating optimal health and top tips to help you manage stress in the mind and body, read Chris James new book –‘Mind Body Cleanse’ by Chris James (Penguin Vermilion, £14.99). Available from Amazon.