If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been hearing the hype over meditation and have yet to take the plunge and give it a try. I thought it was for people who were “enlightened” or “woo-woo." I pictured myself sitting in a room on a mat, maintaining perfect posture, thinking about nothing for hours and it was not appealing at all. I held out for so long, claiming it was cool for other people but not my “thing." I was pretty sure if I couldn’t get my brain to quiet down when I was exhausted and wanted to sleep that I wouldn’t be able to quiet it enough to meditate, so why try?
Well, I was wrong. Turns out, meditation has nothing to do with clearing your mind. It’s all about focusing it. Here’s to hoping that this is the article that finally gets you to take the plunge and give meditation a try.
Breaking Down The Facts Behind Meditation
In simple terms, meditation is the process of engaging on a deeper level with your mind in order to gain control. It's important to note that the word “mind” is not synonymous with “brain." The brain is the tool that is used to process the various mental states that make up the mind, which includes but is not limited to thoughts, emotions, and beliefs.
Renowned psychologist Shawn Achor says that 90% of our long-term happiness is directly attributed to the way our mind processes the world. While scientists and psychologists used to believe that the mind and body were two separate systems, we've now proven that they're actually very much connected, and strengthening your mind is key to healing the body.
“The brain and peripheral nervous system, the endocrine and immune systems, and indeed, all the organs of our body and all the emotional responses we have, share a common chemical language and are constantly communicating with one another,” says Dr. James Gorden, founder of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine.
When you're able to connect with your mind on a deeper level, aka meditation, you can trigger a number of different chemical reactions, one of them being the release of dopamine. By doing this, you're creating circumstances more favorable to long-term happiness. And correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that what we are all ultimately seeking?
Enhancing Your Mind and Body with Meditation
Meditation is incredibly beneficial for uniting your mind and body. It has been proven to reduce stress and control anxiety, and not just while actually meditating. These benefits carry on throughout your day. I can personally attest that when I skip my meditation, my anxiety tends to spike.
Many forms of meditation have been shown to enhance self-awareness, most notably self-inquiry meditation. By taking an outward stance, and looking at yourself from a distance, it's easier to see areas for improvement and examine our strengths.
Likewise, when we know ourselves more deeply, we can learn to push the negative thoughts out and focus on the positive ones. This is one of the largest, most studied areas of meditation benefits. The combination of many studies has shown that those practicing meditation as a form of therapy exhibited fewer symptoms of depression than those who did not.
One of my favorite benefits is the strengthened focus and heightened productivity. Think of meditation like a kegel for your mind. The more you flex your focus muscle, the stronger it becomes. When our mind is strong, we can accomplish anything we set out to do.
Meditation also helps foster creativity in our brain, by lowering our fear of judgment and enhancing our curiosity. In fact, the “flow state” that we often refer to is incredibly similar to what one experiences in the meditative state. Simply the act of the mind wandering has been linked with creative thinking and achievement.
Not only are there mental benefits that ultimately improve your body’s health, but there are also proven physical health benefits to practicing meditation including lowering blood pressure, controlling metabolism, boosting immunity, fighting age-related memory loss, and improving fertility. This doesn’t mean that meditation should take the place of other treatments, but it can definitely be an added help.
Here are some easy ways to start meditating today:
- Download an App. There are tons of applications on the market now designed specifically to help you meditate.
- Invest in a good pair of headphones. Unless you live alone, this is key to zoning out. Even if you don’t intend to try a guided meditation, meditation music allows you to truly focus on connecting with your mind and helps your brainwaves to flow into a cognitive state.
- Set the mood. I like to light some candles for mood lighting, diffuse lavender oil to promote relaxation and turn on my box fan for a light breeze.
- Start with a nighttime meditation. Not only can this help with insomnia, but it’s also a good way to ease into meditation because your mind is already in the " target="_blank">prime state for it. Your brain waves are operating at about 10.5Hz per second, placing your mind in the Alpha state, which means you’re essentially functioning subconsciously. These waves are active about 20 minutes before you go to sleep and 20 minutes after you wake up.
- Accept that you are not going to be able to clear your mind of thoughts completely. Meditation isn’t about clearing your mind, it’s about focusing it. There are a number of different ways to focus your mind including mantras, counting, and breathing techniques. Explore them and find out what works best for you.
- Start small, but stay consistent. If you begin meditating for a mere 5 minutes at a time, it’s much easier to work up to a bigger meditation. Remember that it takes 66 days to build a habit so if you really want to see if it works for you, you have to commit for at least 66 days. Yes, you read that right, 66 days.
- Join a community of like-minded individuals who also practice meditation. When we have people around us that have the same goals and beliefs, it's much easier and more fulfilling to instill new habits and beliefs in ourselves. At the very least, find a friend to be an accountability partner.
Meditation takes practice but the benefits are incredible! Adding this practice into your routine will help you to foster a more creative, happy, and productive life as well as restore balance and vitality to your body. It’s a skill that has to be cultivated; It takes time, but the endorphins and sense of peace is an immediate effect.