Posts filed under ‘Meditation’

Meditation and Self-Acceptance

Perhaps the biggest discussion topic that comes up when I teach meditation, both to groups and individual clients, is that of self-acceptance. In order to enter into the stillness of our mind in meditation, we need to let go of any distracting thoughts, and this involves cultivating a non-judgemental attitude – towards our thoughts and our selves. As soon as we start to judge, we ‘fuel the fire’ of movement and agitation in our minds, which takes us further away from the mind’s natural stillness.

It is rare that I find someone who doesn’t have any issues around self-acceptance. Most of us have a number of things that we don’t like about ourselves, which serve as the basis for self-critical, negative thoughts and feelings – things like our appearance, our behaviour, our habits.

Try asking yourself right now, ‘What don’t I like about myself?’ You may come up with a list of things – you may find it helpful to write them down.

Our lack of self-acceptance makes us feel unhappy and angry. Also the critical, negative thoughts that we have about others stem from these critical, negative thoughts that we have about ourselves. Feeling unconditional love towards others begins with loving ourselves unconditionally.

In the natural stillness of our minds, there is no place for these judgemental thoughts. There is only love – pure and unconditional – and with that, comes complete acceptance of ourselves and others.

Sam May teaches meditation for health and wellbeing at The Natural Health Clinic. He has been teaching meditation since 1994. Sam also works as an acupuncturist and a health consultant for complementary and alternative medicine. For further information visit


January 9, 2014 at 11:52 am Leave a comment

A Look at Some of the Benefits of Meditation Through the Lens of Science

By James McVeigh, clinic assistant


“Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back”


For Buddhists, meditation is a practice key to obtaining enlightenment and nirvana. However some of the wisdom that the Buddha refers to is in the form of qualities such as increased awareness, tranquility and concentration; qualities that appeal to a wide range of people, regardless of any belief in karma or rebirth. Given how these benefits seem separate from any religious side of the practice, it is perhaps interesting to consider what meditation might induce biologically. Have any of these mental changes been measured or objectively displayed through scientific analysis?

Unfortunately, understanding how meditation might affect the brain in terms of science is a considerable challenge. The brain and how it functions even on a fundamental basis remains mostly a mystery. Rather than trying to comprehend how and why the practice might change the brain for the better, observing its effects on structure and activity using scanners could offer clues. Even then, only recently have researchers looked at what meditations impact on the brain might actually be.


A 2004 study by researchers at the University of Wisconcin used brain imaging both during and after meditation and compared the results with a control group. They found that changes in mental state and ‘resting electroencephalogram patterns’ occur and persist beyond the time-period of active meditation. What this means is that long-term meditation practice causes a permanent change in the activity of the brain – perhaps this is the biological representation of mindfulness.

Another study published in 2006 by researchers from Harvard and Yale went further and examined the actual physical structure of the brain before, during and after meditation. They used the process of Magnetic resonance imaging which involves aligning ions throughout the brain with a magnetic field, followed by using a radio field to change the alignment to one which reflects the consistency of the material.


The researchers found that ‘Brain regions associated with attention, interoception and sensory processing were thicker in meditation participants than matched controls, including the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula.’ In other words, the regions of the brain which would be involved in mindfulness are observed to increase in size. These parts of the brain are known to diminish with age, and the study also found that there was a larger size increase in older participants; showing that meditation can be an effective tool to regenerate lost brainpower.

Whilst the processes of the brain and how it might be affected by meditation remain clouded in mystery, these studies have shown that the practice has real and long-lasting biological effects on the mind, lending strong weight to claims of mindfulness and other mental state benefits. These studies are particularly important as they measure actual physical changes; laying the foundations of why and how the process works rather than merely stating that it does work by displaying a correlation.

May 28, 2012 at 12:13 pm Leave a comment

Finding The Calm Within

 By Sam May, BsC, LicAc, MBAcC

Inner calm is an attractive ideal for most people these days, in the busy modern world that we now live in. So much so that the concept has begun to pervade the  advertising world, promoting a variety of products ranging from breakfast cereal to price comparison websites! At some level I think everyone ultimately understands that inner calm can only be found within ourselves, but the experience of it seems to be increasingly elusive with so much emphasis in our society on external development.

Meditation has been used for centuries in the East as a method for calming the mind, and in recent years it has started to become increasingly popular in the West. But how exactly does meditation work, and in particular how does it help us to find calm within ourselves?

One of the key principles of meditation is that it involves holding our attention on something – it is a focused mental exercise, and as such it must have a focal point. This could be something like the sensation of our breath or perhaps a peaceful emotion or insight. But in all cases the aim is to develop single-pointed concentration on whatever ‘object’ we have chosen to focus on. It is not, as is sometimes thought, a case of just letting your mind be and hoping that it will settle down on its own.

When we concentrate our attention on something peaceful, such as the sensation of our breath at the tip of our nostrils, letting go of whatever distractions arise, our mind naturally begins to be more still. There is a relative lack of movement in the mind, resulting in a calmer internal state.

In order to develop and maintain this inner calm, we need to apply some effort to catch our mind when it begins to wander and to return our attention to our object (for example, the breath). Distractions can arise frequently when we start practising meditation, often leaving us with only a few seconds of restful attention on the breath. However, as long as we keep trying to catch and retrieve our mind when it wanders, we will find that our mindfulness gradually improves, such that we are able to keep our attention placed on the breath for longer periods. Even if it feels like we have spent the whole session just reining in our mind, we will definitely feel calmer at the end from having exercised our mindfulness. Just a few moments of stillness can have a profound effect on our mind.

If you are just starting with meditation, I generally recommend that you keep your sessions fairly short, in order to emphasise the quality of your practice. 15 minutes is a good length of time for this, giving sufficient space to establish a deep stillness without being too long to result in a loss of focus.

Sam May teaches meditation for health and wellbeing at The Natural Health Clinic. He has been teaching meditation since 1994. Sam also works as an acupuncturist and a health consultant for complementary and alternative medicine.

February 13, 2012 at 10:50 am Leave a comment

Five Ways To Protect Your Immune System

By Sarah Rudston, clinic assistant

It’s February, and temperatures have dropped across the country (you might even have seen some snow recently!). Colds, coughs, and other illnesses are unfortunately rife at this time of year, so we’re looking at some of the ways you can help protect your immune system and keep yourself healthy until warmer weather is upon us again.

Change Your Diet

Our immune systems function on our diet, and, if we don’t pay attention to what we eat, we could find ourselves in bad health in no time. A diet which is high in fat, sugars, caffeine and salt can damage your immune system’s ability to keep you healthy. By eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you can bolster your defences and keep yourself feeling well.

Don’t Smoke!

We all know that cigarettes are bad for us, however smokers may not know what effect each puff is having on their immune systems. Tobacco smoke can cause you to be more prone to infections such as pneumonia and influenza. It can also cause you to have illnesses which are more severe, and it’ll take you longer to get over them. There’ll also be lower levels of protective antioxidants in your blood as a result of smoking, such as Vitamin C. If you’re sticking to your new year’s resolution to quit, congratulations! If you need a little extra help, check out our stop smoking detox programme.

Exercise Regularly

It’s been proven time and time again that exercise can have a hugely positive effect on your body, as well as its natural defences against disease. Regular exercise can improve cardiovascular health, reduce blood pressure and promote good circulation, all of which does wonders for your immune system. However, too much exercise can put strain on your body, and it’s important not to overdo it!

Get Adequate Sleep

In this day and age, it can be tempting to skip on sleep in order to check emails or pull all-nighters on an important piece of work. However, nothing is more important than your health, and if you’re getting insufficient sleep on a regular basis, you’ll be more likely to damage your health. Lack of sleep can compromise our body’s ability to fight off infections, so make sure you get your eight hours every night.

Take Time Out

Studies have shown that an increase in stress levels can go hand in hand with an increase of disease and infections. It’s no coincidence that we feel rundown when we’ve got a lot on our plates – feeling stressed out can lower the body’s defence to illness and make us less likely to fight off coughs and colds. It might not seem that easy to cut down on our workloads, however simple stress-relieving activities such as walking, swimming or meditating can really help. Have a look at our six-week meditation course and see how you can add a little extra relaxation to your life.

Take care of yourself and before you know it, we’ll have lighter evenings and warmer weather! All the best from us at The Natural Health Clinic, Bristol.

February 6, 2012 at 1:47 pm Leave a comment

Meditation for Modern Life

By Sarah Rudston, clinic assistant

For most people, the word “meditation” conjures up the picture of a bearded man sitting in an uncomfortable-looking lotus position on a high mountain-top. ‘Achieving inner peace’ sounds like a big job requiring lots of time and effort,  however daily meditation can be used simply to help us with our everyday lives. If stress has you anxious, tense and worried, a few minutes in meditation can restore your calm and inner peace, opening up new perspectives to help you deal with your worries effectively.

Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. Originally developed to help deepen understanding of the sacred and spiritual forces of life, it is now more commonly used to help with relaxation and stress reduction. By finely focusing your attention on an external source, such as a candle flame, or an internal movement, such as your breath, you can eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing you stress. The process results in enhanced physical and emotional well-being.

‘Mindfulness’ is a term that’s been increasing in prevalence recently, with ‘mindfulness meditation’ at the forefront of alternative NHS treatments for mental health disorders. As well as helping with illnesses such as depression and panic disorder, mindfulness meditation can help us simply to slow down, relax and improve focus on our actions. How many times have you forgotten your keys, or spent the morning panicking that you’ve left the back door open? Mindfulness can help us to increase our awareness of the present moment, reducing careless behaviour which add to our daily stresses and anxieties.

The best way that we can attain peace of mind is by changing our thoughts from negative to positive. As meditation helps us to focus on the moment, there is no room for judgement or stressful thoughts. Feelings of dissatisfaction and nagging thoughts that we’re not doing ‘enough’ can bring down our enjoyment of life, even of the things which bring us the most pleasure. Meditation gives us back a sense of wellbeing and perspective so that we can move on with our lives and deal with challenges easily.

Sam May is running his 6-week Meditation for Health and Wellbeing course at The Natural Health Clinic, Bristol, from the 26th January 2012. Call 0117 9741199 to book.

January 16, 2012 at 2:01 pm Leave a comment

Meditation on the NHS

by Sam May, Meditation Instructor

Meditation has been in the news recently. A mental health charity (The Mental Health Foundation) issued a report in January arguing that if more GPs could refer their patients to the therapy it would significantly cut the financial cost of depression to the NHS, which currently stands at £7.5 billion a year in the UK. They are urging the NHS to make meditation more widely available to people who suffer from depression.

The Foundation’s findings are revealing. Just 1 in 5 GPs have access to Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), the treatment  based on meditation techniques that was in 2004 approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). MBCT is based on the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) eight week program, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center (USA), and has been shown to halve relapse rates for recurrent depression.

A large majority of GPs (72%) think that meditation would benefit the mental health of their patients, but at present just one in 20 regularly prescribes the therapy.

10% of people in the UK have experienced clinical depression, and 50% of sufferers experience it more than once. After two bouts of depression, the risk of relapse is 70% and this rises to 90% after three episodes.

One of the UK’s leading mindfulness experts, Mark Williams, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Director of the Mindfulness Centre at the University of Oxford, said:

“We’re beginning to discover that meditation practices can have extremely powerful effects on our health. We now have a very good treatment for recurrent depression which urgently needs to be rolled out to all patients that need it. Exciting new research is revealing exactly how meditation works on the brain and how it can be applied more widely.”

Meditation has been shown to affect the workings of the brain and even its structure, according to evidence laid out in the Foundation’s report. People doing mindfulness training show increased activity in the area of the brain connected with positive emotions – the pre-frontal cortex – which is generally less active in people who are depressed.

Over 100 studies have shown changes in brain wave activity during meditation and researchers have found that areas of the brain linked to regulation of the emotions are larger in people who have meditated regularly for five years.

Sam offers personal meditation instruction at The Natural Health Clinic.

For a free initial consultation or to make an appointment please contact Reception on 0117 974 1199.

May 21, 2010 at 9:39 am

Twitter Updates



%d bloggers like this: