What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of meditation? Do you think of people sitting cross-legged in a circle while chanting? Do you think of it as a mystical practice that seems desirable but expensive or time-consuming, something you have to study for months to learn how to do? Perhaps it even seems sinister or cult-like to you.
While meditation can involve many different practices, meditating itself is actually a pretty simple concept. It’s not about anything in particular except stopping whatever you’re doing and taking a few moments (or more) to be non-judgmentally aware of yourself and what’s all around you. Many people also call this mindfulness.
Studies have proven that meditation not only has a host of benefits, like “decreased stress, decreased depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia, and an increased quality of life”, but meditation can actually cause growth in certain areas of the brain.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School talks about a study she conducted in 2012 that examined the brains of new meditators vs. the brains of non-meditators through MRI scans. Lazar says, “We found differences in brain volume after eight weeks in five different regions in the brains of the two groups. In the group that learned meditation, we found thickening in four regions”.
In the Harvard study some of the regions of the brain that experienced growth are associated with self relevance, learning, cognition, memory, emotional regulation, perspective taking, empathy, and compassion. And that fifth area? it was the stress region of the brain, which actually shrunk. And that was just after 8 weeks of meditating for 30 minutes a day!
Even the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (the NIH,which is the US Government’s research program for non-traditional medicine and health care) says that, “research suggests that practicing meditation may reduce blood pressure, symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression, and insomnia”.
If you’d like to start meditating but feel intimidated, try this easy and effective exercise I read about in the New York Times. Let’s call it: Stop Light Meditation.
Next time you’re driving somewhere and you’re stopped at a red light, take a moment be aware of your body and how well it’s working, chugging along. Relax your shoulders, neck, hands, and face (for safety please don’t shut your eyes if you’re behind the wheel). Take in your surroundings and all the lives and objects you’re currently surrounded with. Try to let your thoughts pass in and out of your mind without judgment. Breathe deeply. When the light turns green you go on with a renewed sense of purpose and peace.
I personally really enjoy guided hypnotherapy meditation tapes. When I need to work on some specific problem, I have a hypnotherapist record a customized tape to help access my subconscious mind. I listen to the tape whenever I have 20 minutes of uninterrupted time just for myself. Usually before bed time, which also helps me to fall asleep like a baby.
I also love this quick breathing meditation you can do throughout the day to keep calm. You can do it while sitting, or even standing. Exhale completely, then take a long deep breath while you count slowly to 4. Then hold your breath for 7 counts. Open your mouth slightly and press the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth right behind your teeth, then start to exhale slowly counting to 8. Repeat three to four times. You’ll notice the difference right away.
What do you think? Do you meditate? If so, when and how do you do it? Do you use an app? If you’ve never meditated before and you try this exercise, let me know what you think. Would you ever try to take this further and set aside time in your life for longer meditation?