Feeling overstressed and overworked? It's a situation that is fast becoming the norm in the frantic pace of life in Singapore today. Instead of being frazzled and stressed out all of the time, try taking a breather by meditating. You’ll learn to slow down and take the time to sit still, breathe easy and live in the moment. 

While this centuries-old practice is a cornerstone of many major religions, it has gradually evolved into various secular forms, as more and more people realise its significant benefits.

Singapore health and meditation: It's all in your mind
Learn to slow down and live in the moment
with these meditation techniques. Image: Corbis

Meditation instructor Vikas Malkani shares five health benefits to meditation and tips on how you can incorporate meditation into your daily life.

1. IT REDUCES YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE
In a 2008 study conducted by the University of Kentucky, participants who meditated for a few weeks reported a significant drop in their blood pressure, from a borderline high range to a normal range. The release of stress causes your muscles – including the muscular walls of your blood vessels – to relax. Less resistance to blood flow means lower blood pressure.

2. IT INCREASES YOUR BLOOD CIRCULATION
Relaxed blood vessels translate to an overall increase in blood flow, which helps prevent strokes. Increased blood flow to the brain improves mental alertness, while increased blood flow to the digestive system helps you to digest your food better.

3. IT IMPROVES YOUR SLEEP
With regular meditation, you tend to fall asleep faster and experience deeper sleep. Quality sleep helps you to feel more energetic and calm throughout the day. 

4. IT BALANCES YOUR THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS
Studies have shown that meditation has a harmonising effect on both hemispheres of the brain. “Many of us operate from our logical left hemisphere.” says Vikas. “We think too much and over-analyse situations at the expense of our feelings. Meditation helps to balance our rational thoughts with our emotional feelings.”

5. IT OPTIMISES YOUR BRAIN FUNCTION
Reports from the International Journal of Neuroscience claim that among other mental benefits, meditation helps boost your creativity as well as increase your efficiency in learning new concepts.

GETTING INTO THE ZONE
Meditation can be practised anywhere – your home, office, or even in a taxi while stuck in traffic. Two categories of meditation are most popular: mindfulness meditation and concentration mediation.

  • Mindfulness meditation: you focus on the present – aware of what’s around you – without engaging, judging or analysing your thoughts or feelings. You allow stray thoughts to pass freely through your mind, while anchoring yourself by focusing on your breathing or by chanting mantras.
  • Concentration meditation: you focus on a specific action – like breathing through your nose – or a mental image – like a flower or a flame – while emptying your mind of all other thoughts.

If you are religious, you can chant a prayer or mantra to still your mind. Or you could focus on ideas and thoughts like peace, forgiveness or love.

How to get started:

  • Designate a quiet place at home – like your bedroom – for meditating. Ask your family to respect your space by not disturbing you while you meditate.
  • Before you meditate, freshen up: Wash your face or have a shower so you feel more awake and energetic.
  • Sit in the cross-legged lotus position, spine straight. Begin by taking a few deep breaths and releasing tension from your body and mind.
  • Consciously relax your entire body, especially your chest and facial muscles. Focus your mind on your breathing. Don’t be concerned about distracting thoughts or emotions – neither welcome nor repress them. Eventually, your inner world will become calm.
  • After you meditate, reinforce the positive aspects of your session. For example, tell yourself you feel fresher or did well by sitting still for 10 minutes.

Vikas Malkani is the chief instructor at Soulcentre Academy, a self-development centre located at 7 One-North Gateway, #01-15, (S) 138642; soulcentresingapore@yahoo.com.sg. Call 8128 7418 or 9875 2372 for further enquiries.

Besides Soulcentre Academy, other secular meditation centres in Singapore include: The Minding Centre, #01-68, Blk 644 Bukit Batok Central, tel: 8211 0879 and Toby Ouvry Meditation, #03-11 The Station, 195 Pearl's Hill Terrace, tel: 9675 0279.

This article was originally published in SimplyHer January 2011.