By Lindsay Marchment

As a yoga and meditation teacher, people are always asking me questions which seem simple, but tend to be quite complex…

  • Is meditation really a thing?
  • Isn’t it just a waste of time?
  • If it’s so easy, why can’t I do it already?
  • What should I have for lunch?

To these I sigh and say: “Ah – one of the difficult ones!”

However, in this blog I’d like to answer some o the questions that have cropped-up over the years and continue to do so today. I’d like to start with Meditation.

So, what is Meditation? – Ah, one of the hard ones!

There is much said (or chanted) about meditation. However, it’s a very personal experience – therefore, hard to adequately describe to another person. I found the following quote about meditation, which I quite like

“This is a donut.

It is very sweet, and very good. But if you’ve never tasted a donut, you wouldn’t really know how sweet and how good a donut is… meditation is like that. Transcendental Meditation gives an experience much sweeter than the sweetness of this donut.” – David Lynch, film director [online: link]

If only it had been about Cornish pasties, then I think he’d have it spot-on!

But in taking to others, its good to have some objective truth behind you. So today, we tend to fall back on SCIENCE.

Now I’ve done it… I’ve gone and used the ‘S-Word’.

But isn’t science kind-of anti-meditation and all that mumbo-jumbo?

Well, science is just a tool to objectively look at the facts. The difficulty with looking at subjects like Meditation through a scientific mindset is that it part of a system which is difficult to capture in simple discrete experiments. But many people have tried. In a wide range of scientific disciplines it is possible to glimpse some parts of meditation and the effects it can have on us. Lets take a look at some evidence …

Scientific evidence that meditation has benefits to health and wellbeing.

The 1990’s saw an ever-increasing amount of research into the brain and changes which occur when people meditate. Neuroscientist, Richard Davidson (Professor of Psychology & Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin) has shown that regular meditation practice can alter the way the brain functions, using brain imaging techniques. What is astounding to me is how his research team has shown how meditation not only changes the way the brain functions, but also alters the structure of the brain’s very structure. If you want to more, check it out here. Their results showed that regular long-term meditators more gamma brainwaves; associated with perception and mental activity. This suggests meditation has the capacity to alter the brain, increase awareness, compassion and if you’re lucky… happiness.

Brain Waves and Meditation

Training in meditation can teach control of some mental states, which can be observed using brain imaging techniques.

Perhaps most significantly, scientists have shown that meditation can slow brain wave activity, during practice. This can help us become more relaxed and calm. This is a state of ‘Relaxed Awareness’, where we remain lucid but ‘not thinking’. This is harder than it sounds and takes practice!

In a deep meditation, practitioners often experience an increase in Theta brainwaves. In this state they become deeply relaxed and can experience mental images and feelings of ‘Bliss’. If I get there, I’ll let you know my own experience.

Interestingly the changes observed continued after the end of the session; this shows that the positive effects of meditation can continue beyond the practice itself.

Physiological Changes to the Body

A regular meditation practice has many physiological benefits to the body. These are understood to greater and lesser extents. However, we can recognise the positive effect on ourselves.

When our bodies are relaxed we have lower respiratory rates, we breathe more slowly and deeply which in turn decreases our heart rate and lowers blood pressure. Meditation can also support a good immune system – helping our bodies respond more effectively and help us to ward off disease. Some research indicates a positive influence on the endocrine system. This has included helping to control cholesterol and reducing stored body fats. Many mental illnesses have also shown improvements by following guided meditation practice. Here I would recommend caution, as it is no easy thing to be ‘alone with our selves’! Finding the right environment and a good teacher you can trust is key – whomsoever is right for you.

You also have to ‘put the effort in’! To get the benefit, a regular practice is essential. Its something which is with everyone’s reach, but it’s not easy either – not everyone has the patience and resolve to see it through. This is the case with many things which are worth having, not just meditation!

The Benefits to Health and Wellbeing of Meditation

The therapeutic benefits of meditation have been widely reported by scientists for many years in numerous scientific studies from all over the world for the treatment of various medical conditions. These range from anxiety, to cardiovascular disease, to colonic irritability – to mention but a few.

I would argue that the weight of scientific evidence is clear scientific proof to the widespread benefits of meditation. I would not claim to understand it all, as I don’t think that science can yet fully explain meditation. However, the benefits of meditation are tangible and real! That’s’ enough for me.

In Summary

  • Meditation can be good for the body and mind – perhaps you could give it a whirl.
  • 8 out of 10 yogis recommend meditation… the other 2 are out of their bodies at the moment and will get back to us as soon as they are able.
  • If you want to know more, check out some of the papers below. You could also try taking just one minute out of your busy lives for yourself to relax and feel good about yourself.
  • Keep your minds open, but your feet firmly on the ground.


Recommended reading:
1 Girodo, J., ‘Yoga meditation and flooding in the treatment of anxiety neurosis’, J. Behav. Ther. & Exp. Psychiat., 5(2):157-160
2 Baither, R.C. and Godsey, R., ‘Rational emotive education and relaxation training in large group treatment of test anxiety’, Psychol. Rep., 45(1):326
3 Matthew, R.J., et al., ‘Anxiety and platelet MAO levels after relaxation training’, Amer. J. Psychiat., 138(3):371-373, March 1981.
4 Bahrke, M.S., ‘Exercise, meditation and anxiety reduction: a review’, Amer. Corr. Ther. J., March- April 1979
5 Jansson, L., ‘Behavioural treatment of irritable colon’, (Swedish), Scand. J. Behav. Ther., 8(4): 119-204, 1979.
6 Friedell, A., ‘Automatic attentive breathing in angina pectoris’, Minnesota Med., pp. 875-881, Aug, 1948.
7 Stone, R.A. and De Leo, J., ‘Psychotherapeutic control of hypertension’, N. Engl. J. Med., 294:80-84.
8 Datey, K.K., Deshmukh, S.N., Dalvi, C.P. and Vinekar, S.L., ‘Shavasana: a yogic exercise in the management of hypertension’, Angiology, 20:325-333.
9 Leah Raj Bali, ‘Long term effect of relaxation on blood pressure and anxiety levels of hypertensive males: a controlled study’, Psychosomatic. Med., 41(8), Dec. 1979.

Following on from our previous blog we explore the second of Pajanjalie’s eight limbs of yoga – Niyamas. Niyamas relate to your attitude towards yourself. By understanding these a little more, you can then think about how to build them into your life.


If you want a deeper, more meaningful existence, the niyamas provide a set of rules or ‘observances’ to help. They are your own personal blueprint for living a happier, healthier life and will lead you towards a more positive relationship with yourself. After all, it’s impossible to be kind to others if you haven’t worked out how to be kind to yourself.

Saucha (Cleanliness)

There’s a reason why the yamas and niyamas come before asana in the eight limbs. If you turn up on your yoga mat with negative, aggressive thoughts, you won’t progress in your practice. Saucha is all about purity – both in terms of personal cleanliness and mental clarity. It encourages you to let go of unhelpful thoughts and habits that don’t serve you well.


Do you spend your whole time thinking, ‘I’ll be happier if…?’ This can lead to a constant sense of frustration and unhappiness. Santosha means accepting and appreciating what we have and what we are. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have goals, but you need to understand which ones are really important to your life and your well-being.

Tapas (Discipline)

Achieving a more ‘yogic’ state of mind takes effort, hard work and self-discipline. It’s not something that happens overnight. Tapas literally means ‘heat’ and relates to the fiery passion you need to channel towards your own self-improvement.

Svadhyaya (Self-study)

We all have our ‘default’ settings that mean we react to things in a certain way or fall into the same unhelpful traps. By practicing self-reflection and observing yourself, you can start to change these habits and learn who you really are.

Isvara Pranidhana (Devotion)

This can be interpreted many different ways but it’s essentially about realising that everything you do is for a greater purpose and not just for yourself. By letting go of selfishness and thinking about the greater good, you become grounded, humble and at peace.

Yama’s & Niyama’s may seem overwhelming, but by embracing even one small part of the yamas and niyamas, you’ll notice a difference in your life. Take it one step at a time and remember, always be kind to yourself!

You may have only thought of yoga as a physical exercise regime. That’s understandable as this is the side of yoga that’s most well known in the West. Many people go through the motions but never delve deeper into the philosophy behind the practice. Yoga really is about far, far more than merely physical movement. It’s a framework that can guide every aspect of your life and has the power to transform your levels of happiness and personal fulfilment.

As mentioned in our last blog post, one of the oldest systems of yoga is ‘Raja’ or the royal path. This is divided into eight ‘limbs’ and in this blog explore the first limb – Yamas. Yamas are your attitudes towards others.


So many of the negative things in life come from people’s lack of self-control and pent up anger. Whether it’s road rage, violence, nasty gossip, envying others or lying about your actions, these negative behaviours can become embedded in the way we live, bringing unhappiness to others and poisoning our own lives.

The yamas or ‘restraints’ help you to recognise and take responsibility for your actions and guide you towards a more peaceful relationship with the world around you.

Ahimsa (Non-violence)

This is all about compassion – for yourself and for others. The belief is that we’re all connected so if you hurt someone or something, you are hurting yourself. Likewise, if you’re not kind to yourself, you’ll find it hard to be kind to others.

Satya (Truthfulness)

Being truthful in the way you think and the things you say can be difficult. You might think that you could hurt others by being truthful. But the negative repercussions from not being truthful are often worse and make matters more difficult in your life.

Asteya (Non-stealing)

This doesn’t only refer to stealing money or possessions. It’s more concerned with stealing people’s time by trying to persuade them to do something they don’t want to do or seeking attention when the other person doesn’t want to give it. Asteya encourages you to be grateful that you have everything you could possible want. This will mean you’re less inclined to take what isn’t naturally yours.

Brahmacharya (Control of your senses)

This yama is all about re-directing your energy from negative to positive things. Think about where you tend to direct your energy. Is it towards worrying or trying to present yourself as someone you’re not to impress others? Brahmacharya encourages the right use of your energy – if there’s something you love doing that gives you a boost, then do it! Book that yoga class!

Aparigraha (Non-coveting)

This isn’t just about material things – it also looks at the ideas and concepts you might hold in your head about your life. Aparigrapha helps you to realise that if you let go of these pre-conceived ideas, you’ll be free to go with the flow of life and change and develop within it.

The world seems to have gone yoga-mad. Everywhere you turn there are new classes springing up and so many different varieties – bikram, hatha, ashtanga, strala… the list goes on. Your friends have told you to give it a try but you’re not sure what it involves or how you should start. Well, hopefully this new blog will start to answer some of your questions.

Yoga means a lot of things to a lot of different people. To some, it’s a good exercise regime that strengthens and tones muscles. To others, it’s a complete philosophy of life, shaping the way they think, feel and interact with the world.

Back in the mists of time, yoga was divided into five branches. Each of these was seen to be a stage in a journey of self-awareness and spiritual fulfilment.

  1. Hatha

This is the branch you’ve probably heard of as it’s the most common in the West. It focuses on a series of movements called ‘asanas’ that flow together in co-ordination with your breathing. The aim of Hatha yoga is to create union between body and soul through the practice of physical movement.

  1. Karma

Everyone’s heard of ‘good karma’ but where does this phrase come from? If you practice Karma yoga, you believe that what you’re experiencing today is a reflection of your actions in the past. In other words, if you have good thoughts, good deeds and good words, they’ll lead you to a more enriched and happy life. The focus is on ‘selfless service’ and choosing a better future, free from negativity.

  1. Jnana

This is considered to be one of the most difficult branches of yoga and it’s certainly difficult to explain in simple terms! Jnana means ‘wisdom’ and its ultimate goal is a sense of ‘oneness’ with the universe. To practice Jnana, you need strong determination, will power and an open, enquiring mind.

  1. Bhakti

Often referred to as the yoga of love, Bhakti encourages you to feel a sense of love, gratitude and devotion in every aspect of your life and towards everything that surrounds you. In its simplest form, you focus on actions that nurture and nourish your heart and the heart of others. It’s a very beautiful concept – the idea that by giving love, you’ll receive it in return.

  1. Raja

Raja Yoga is the oldest system of yoga. Yoga means ‘union’ and ‘Raja’ means ‘royal’ so this is the ‘royal path’ to bring union of your mind, body and spirit. The path is divided into eight steps – self-control, discipline, physical exercises, breath exercises, withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation and, finally, complete realisation. It’s not for the faint-hearted – to practice it fully takes time, determination, self-discipline and dedication.

Yoga in the modern world

At the Karma Centre, we believe it’s important for modern yoga to stay true to the fundamental beliefs contained in the five branches above. Too often in the West, yoga is practiced without any mindfulness or care – resembling a work-out at the gym rather than a spiritual practice.

If you’re thinking of taking up yoga, make sure you find a teacher with qualifications from a recognised body. All our teachers are highly qualified by the Yoga Alliance or British Wheel of Yoga meaning they’ve undergone rigorous training. It’s worth trying out a couple of teachers until you find one you like and gel with.

A well-qualified teacher will help you to respect your body and not push it beyond its limits. We’re hard-wired to compare ourselves to other people but, when practicing yoga, it’s really important to recognise that your body is anatomically unique and different to other people’s. Your teacher will guide you to be mentally ‘present’ during your yoga practice by focusing on your breath in the various movements. This will ensure that you don’t strain or hurt your muscles and you’ll also start to appreciate the sense of calm and mental stillness of your practice.

Why not give yoga a try? Book a class online at The Karma Centre today. All our classes are graded with Level 1 being the most basic suitable for beginners as well as experienced yogi’s. Level 2 being a little more intense suitable for all abilities. Level 3 being extremely challenging requiring a good level of mobility & fitness.




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