You may already know quite a bit about The Paleo Diet®—how it encourages us to eat in a way similar to how our non-industrialized ancestors, relying on healthy meats, fish, and eggs; fruits and veggies; nuts and seeds; herbs and spices; and healthy fats and oils. The diet also advocates that you avoid, as much as possible, refined sugars and artificial sweeteners; processed foods; grains and legumes; dairy products; and trans-fats such as vegetable oil, margarine, and shortening.
You may also know about the emphasis on exercise, to keep the body fit and strong. But a Paleo lifestyle includes more than just diet and exercise. It also includes Paleo principles such as getting outside to enjoy and be nourished by the natural world; protecting ourselves from man-made EMFs; unplugging periodically from our Wi-Fi devices; and cultivating healthy human relationships.
To that end, meditation can also be a valuable component of a balanced and healthy Paleo lifestyle.
The Physical, Mental, and Emotional Benefits Of Meditation
Perhaps you have already experienced the beneficial effects of meditation. It’s reassuring to know that Western science has verified the benefits of regular meditation practice. A sampling of the proven benefits of daily practice include:
- stress relief
- enhanced vitality
- deeper and more nourishing sleep
- increased mental clarity
- improved focus and concentration
- enhanced creativity
- expanded insight
- equanimity and compassion
It is quite an impressive list. Another potential benefit of meditation—one that tends to be of special interest to Paleo enthusiasts—is improvements to the digestive system.
The practice of meditation can, in fact, improve digestive efficiency in several ways. First, it can help direct physical effects by helping to resolve digestive problems such as cramps, bloating, and gas.
Second, by clarifying your mind and dissolving mental-emotional tensions, meditation can also help you make better choices in relation to what you eat and when. So, if digestion problems are linked to poor food choices, overeating, or undereating, then meditation can help.
Finally, the most general way that meditation supports our digestive system is via the melting away of anxiety and stress. While all the body’s systems respond negatively to anxiety and tension, the digestive system is particularly sensitive in this regard. Most of us have had the experience of an emotional upset ruining our appetite or giving us a stomachache.
Why does this happen? When your “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system is activated, the “rest and digest” parasympathetic functions are depressed. When your body is preparing to fight or flee, the resources necessary for proper digestion are diverted.
Over time, this can cause all kinds of digestive problems such as acid reflux, ulcers, and inflammation. By calming the mind and body through meditation, unnecessary tensions are replaced by deep relaxation, which tends to improve the functioning of the body’s organ systems, including the capacity to digest our food better.
How to Start Practicing Meditation
There are many kinds of meditation. What they have in common is their experiential nature. This means is that in order to fully understand what meditation is, you need to practice it.
Eventually, partaking in meditation will begin to feel more like simply “being.” Instead of doing meditation, you will realize that meditation is who you are.
To start, adopting a particular technique is useful. One excellent option—and a great place to start for beginners—is to devote 10 or 15 minutes to following your breath: consciously observing the cycles of inhalation and exhalation.
To help you stay on track, you can count the breaths, from one to 10, with each exhalation. Notice your inhalation, then as you exhale, say (out loud or silently to yourself) the word “one.” Then again notice the inhalation, and then as you exhale say the word “two.” Continue like this until you’ve reached “10”—and if you get distracted, begin again at “one.”
Sitting with the spine upright is one excellent posture for meditation practice. However, you can meditate with the body in almost any position. Sometimes, a simple yoga pose is a wonderful opportunity for meditation.
The yoga pose Viparita Karani (legs-up-wall pose), for instance, has deeply therapeutic effects, one of which is to calm the nervous system and help you to sleep better. Five or 10 minutes is all it takes—right before going to bed—to harmonize your body and mind in a way that helps you to fall easily into a deep and nourishing sleep.