After an intense year of partying abroad I returned home from Barcelona fatigued and unnecessarily stressed.
I landed in Melbourne with an empty wallet, no university for six months and way too much time to think.
The past was done and dusted, the high times were over and it was time to undertake the next chapter of my life. It was this realisation that allowed me to refocus my mind on the present.
I decided to try a number of new hobbies ranging from Yoga, Greek lessons and mindfulness meditation.
After some experimentation I found an interest in mindfulness meditation, an activity that is increasingly being practiced in Western society.
For those who aren’t familiar with the process, Meditation is the concept of closing one’s eyes and focusing on surrounding sounds, physical sensations and breathing. It’s a skill that has been proven to decrease stress and anxiety.
As a result of this, meditation has become the subject of ongoing study. Some studies show that meditation can allow us to process information quicker, effecting parts of the brain that reduce emotions.
The latest US study reports that meditation can have the same effect as an anti-depressant, providing relief for depression and anxiety sufferers.
Matt Young, the founder of the Melbourne Meditation Centre says that meditation has long lasting effects on the way we think.
“In a nutshell, meditation allows the part of the brain that controls emotions to achieve a state of balance.
This allows us to see things more logically and rationally as well as helping to calm a stressed mind,” he says.
In the same way, there are a number of different ways to meditate and there are many benefits still being discovered, ranging from possible improvements in concentration, memory, creativity and positive emotions.
Furthermore, it’s interesting to note that meditation has been utilised in many different fields, including the business world and competitive sports. Notable celebrities who have practiced meditation include media mogul Rupert Murdoch and sporting legends Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.
Experts in sport too believe that exercises such as meditation and visualisation can improve physical performance.
But just like any sport or hobby, meditation requires regular practice.
When I first sat down to meditate it was difficult to close my eyes even for a few minutes and try to deliberately not think about anything.
Nonetheless, this is a common misconception that people make about meditation. In my experiences doing a six week course I discovered that meditation is less about switching off and more about learning to accept your thoughts as occurring in the background. This allows you to stay focused on breathing patterns and sensations.
It is this focus that some researchers suggest improves cognitive functioning and may allow us to pay greater attention to everyday tasks, our working life and even our personal life. Meditation is also a risk free and safe practice.
Mr Young says to achieve long term benefits, meditation requires dedication.
“If the instructions you are following are effective you may notice an immediate change from even just a few minutes of meditating,” Mr Young says.
“Still, if you’re after greater results you may have to practice meditation frequently. Research shows that long term changes in the brain occur after 8-10 weeks of regular practice.”
And as for myself, I hope regular practice will continue to improve my concentration and reduce future stressors.