Meditation is no longer ‘woo woo’; it can majorly benefit you
You don’t have to be from India or an all-natural flower child from California to have noticed that meditation practices are becoming more and more popular and seriously acknowledged for their long-term health benefits. One among many meditation health benefits studies, published in Biological Psychiatry and written about in the New York Times in 2016, found that meditation can actually change the brain chemistry of practitioners and could improve their health. In the study, one group was taught formal meditation techniques while the other did stretches and chatted. After 3 days, brain scans were done and compared to initial evaluative brain scans. It was found that those who practiced the formal meditation showed increased brain activity in the areas that process stress and other areas that are correlated to calm and relaxation. Then again after 4 months, blood tests were done and compared to baseline tests taken at the study’s onset. Those who had learned formal meditation showed lower levels of a marker of unhealthy inflammation in their blood. It was thought that even while many of these participants had stopped meditating, the benefits of the changes in body chemistry while meditating had a long-term effect on their health.
There are many more studies like this, suggesting with a significant amount of scientific proof that meditating can:
- Decrease stress
- Lower heart rate and improve cardiovascular health
- Reduce anxiety
- Increase feelings of well-being
- Improve circulation
- Improve sleep
- Improve concentration
- Increase self-awareness
- Slow aging
The Art of Meditation
While you may have heard people describing the art of meditation as “silencing the mind,” there’s more to it than that. Firstly, many meditation teachers will tell you silencing the mind is a sort of impossibility when that’s your focus. While there are innumerable forms of meditation for practictioners to try, there are three main types of meditation techniques, according to the Huffington Post. It’s important for you to know which forms of meditation work best for you.
Controlled focus/ Concentration
In the controlled focus technique, a meditator focuses their attention on one thing, like their breathing, an idea, an image, or an emotion. Many people who meditate in this type of style use a candle flame or the feeling of their breath. The brain wave activity that is typically seen in this type of meditation are beta waves, which correlate to “logical-thinking, problem-solving” according to Mayo Clinic. Guided meditation falls under this category.
Mindfulness or Open Monitoring
This type of meditation typically involves the meditator simply observing or paying attention to their thoughts or experiences without holding on to any of the ideas. In this type of meditation, the meditator might want to acknowledge the thought that comes up but not continue thinking about it, but let it dissipate. In Mindfulness meditation, theta waves are stimulated in the brain, which Mayo Clinic calls “dream-like.”
Transcendental Meditation (TM)/Automatic self-transcending
This meditation technique is designed to go beyond mental activity to spontaneously transcend the practice of meditation. In this technique there is no attempt to direct or to control the attention or focus. Alpha brain waves are stimulated with this technique, and Mayo Clinic describes these waves as “relaxed, happy, focused.”
One caveat of using TM is that there is a fee to hire someone to teach this technique.
Steps to Make Meditation Part of Your Routine
You may be looking at all of this and saying “yeah that’s great, but where do I find the time?” There is an old Zen saying: You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour. Meaning if you’re extra busy, then you need that extra mental rest and reboot.
However, by putting aside 10-20 minutes in the morning, and ideally 10-20 minutes in the afternoon or early evening to pause your day, you could reap serious mental and physical health benefits. If you consider that meditation can help keep you healthy, positive, and energized, the return on these 40 minutes of investment can be astronomical.
Here are some meditation tips to help you get started.
- Make it a routine. Meditate at the same time every day, make sure that your family, roommates, or friends know not to bother you during this time, and claim this space as yours each and every day.
- Set a timer. Nothing kills the flow of meditation like the sneaky thought “I wonder how much time has passed?” Set a timer so you can stay engaged for the full amount of time, trusting that this is the best way to spend these few minutes so nothing is worth losing focus for.
- Set a reminder or an alarm to meditate. Use this as you start your practice to remind you to meditate. As you make meditation more of a habit, you may be able to stop using this reminder, but to start out with, it’s a great way to keep yourself on track.
- Don’t judge yourself. We all have busy minds, and you might find yourself filled with thoughts about the day but just see them and let them go.
- Focus on your breath. If it helps you to come away from your busy mind, focus on the air moving through your nostrils into your lungs. Relax your body, and enjoy the time you have for meditation and silence in your busy life.