With all its conveniences, modern life is a minefield of stress. The relentless pursuit of perfection, the never-ending To-Do list, the constant news from around the world, the way you’re required to be always on – all these and many more factors can make you feel anxious and overwhelmed. Lately an increasing number of Australians are swearing by guided meditation as a coping tool and with good reason. In these troubled times, it can help you find focus and purpose and improve your quality of life in many ways.
What is guided meditation?
As research continues to back the benefits of meditation on managing anxiety and augmenting cognition, more people are discovering how to use it to improve their mental health.
Meditation is the practice of learning to be still and allowing your mind to settle. In a world filled with distraction, it teaches you to focus on yourself. But it isn’t easy to let your thoughts melt away which can be discouraging for those who try meditation for the first time. This is where guided meditation can help.
Guided meditation is one of the easier forms of meditative practice and is suitable for beginners or those who are naturally restless. Also known as guided imagery or visualization, this kind of meditation allows you to build mental images of places or situations that you find relaxing. It encourages you to use as many senses as possible, such as smells, sights, sounds and textures, so that the experience is wholesome and immersive, allowing for a deeper practice. To begin with, a real or virtual guide walks you through the process.
While this is the easiest way for a beginner to experiment with mindfulness, meditating with an instructor is also suitable for those who are out of practice or looking to switch it up. It is an incredibly effortless practice that channels the power of meditation to help you experience calm, happiness, energy and empathy. All you need to do is close your eyes and let the guide’s voice draw you through a peaceful yet powerful session.
How can I benefit from guided meditation?
For many people, meditation has offered relief from the following medical and wellness conditions:
- Anxiety and depression
- Heart conditions
- Skeletal and muscular pain
- Blood pressure issues
- Insomnia and other sleep problems
- Improved immune system and resilience to disease
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other digestive complaints
- Migraines and headaches
- Auto-immune conditions
As more research continues to pour in about meditation, we learn more about its incredibly and wide ranging benefits. In addition to the physical benefits, meditation has immense benefits on your mental and emotional wellbeing. With a regular meditation habit, you will notice the following:
- Better stress management
- Stronger emotional resilience
- Higher level of self-awareness
- Mindful and purposeful focus on the present moment
- Less space and tolerance for negative emotions
- Reduced vulnerability to depression
- Easier decision making abilities due to sharper cognitive functioning
Meditation can be an incredibly powerful tool in the treatment of depression. It offers you the tools to control and regulate your thinking and your emotions. One of the predominant factors of depression is rumination, or obsessively focusing on the negative feelings, what might be causing them and what could happen as a result. This state of mind makes it incredibly difficult to visualize a solution, but meditation reduces rumination and enables you to take action.
When using guided meditation for depression, it is important that any medical prescriptions or therapy requirements are followed as well. Practicing mindfulness provides the freedom to choose your emotional reactions and therefore have more control over them, but there is no substitute for the medical or chemical requirements of the body.
Guided meditation for healing – how does it work?
Years of research show that wounds heal faster in people who are relaxed compared to those who are stressed or anxious. A recent study from the University of Auckland found that psychological factors such as coping mechanisms and a positive mental state speeds up recovery in those with long-term injuries. This only proves the connection between our emotions and our bodies.
Thoughts and feelings have been shown to evoke physiological responses, something that a lot of us can attest to even without research. Strategies to decrease anxiety, stress and negativity can bolster your immune system and help prevent illness and boost recovery. Going through an illness or a severe injury can be quite stressful and anything that you can do to calm your mind and experience relaxation while you recover will boost your healing remarkably. This is why guided meditation can help.
Meditation has also been found useful for a number of other medical conditions, especially those which are triggered or exacerbated by stress. While a growing body of scientific research supports the manifold medical benefits of meditation, some researchers remain skeptical. They believe it’s not yet possible to draw conclusions. With that in mind, some research suggests that meditation may help people manage symptoms of conditions such as:
- Chronic pain
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Sleep problems
- Tension headaches and migraines
Regardless of the numerous benefits listed above as well as the established link between meditation and healing, do exercise moderation and caution. Meditation should not be used as a replacement for traditional medical treatment but will be effective when used as a complementary therapy.
Should I use an app or approach an instructor for guided meditation?
Technology might get a bad rap for causing the attention deficiency that is plaguing modern society, but it also offers everyone the ability to access expert instructors and learn different skills. With the added benefits of convenience and free or minimum pricing, a virtual guide may be the perfect solution. Here is a list of the popular guided meditation mobile apps in Australia:
Smiling Mind is an Australian mindfulness meditation smartphone app designed in part by the Federal government for both adults and kids. It was created as a non-profit initiative to augment the lives of Australians via mindfulness instruction and motivation.
Headspace, conceived by meditation teacher Andy Puddicombe, brands itself as ‘a gym membership for the mind’. The app offers free sessions, including the highly recommended Take 10 which allows you to do a trial for 10 days before you begin a paid subscription.
Calm is a simple smartphone app that teaches mindfulness and encourages you to maintain a healthy routine for your meditation practice.
This mindfulness app makes it easier to cultivate a daily habit and ‘create your own personal force field of calm and peace.’
There are limited options on this application but its simplicity stands out among all others.
Why should I choose guided meditation over other forms of meditation?
Guided meditation offers ease and simplicity which makes it invaluable for most novice meditators. Other forms of meditation may be harder because you will be forced to rely on your ability to silence your own thoughts.
With guided meditation, you will be required to focus on the voice of the guide or the teacher and follow instructions which lead you through a process. As you develop stronger control over your thoughts, you may prefer to meditate on your own. For many people, this form of meditation becomes a positive and powerful habit that offers all the benefits of solo meditation and you may choose to meditate with an instructor indefinitely.
At the end of the day, the best form of meditation is the one that you actually end up doing. The more regular your practice, the more benefits you are likely to experience. If you have tried other forms of meditation and found them hard, give guided meditation a chance and you will see the difference.
Mixing meditation and leisure
For many beginners who develop a practice, it may become a habit to use meditation as a break or to relax. However while meditation can be extremely calming, it has a specific purpose. Even though you are doing nothing outwardly, a meditation practice works by actively processing emotions, developing stronger mind control and deepening awareness of your mental health. If you use your meditation practice to relax, there is no need to stop – it can be a great way to slow down – but do understand that you may not experience the benefits of meditation.
It would be more beneficial for you to separate your leisure time and your meditation time. During your practice, make sure you follow the instructions of your teacher or guide diligently.
No matter what form of meditation you choose, the only instruction to remember is that very few people find it easy at the outset. Be patient with yourself and keep bringing your mind back to the practice, and it will slowly form into a habit.
If you would like to find guided meditation sessions near you, Avaana can help you find the best options.