Meditation is a mind and body practice that has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness, and enhancing overall health and well-being.
Many studies have been conducted to look at how meditation can be helpful for a variety of conditions: high blood pressure, certain psychological disorders, and pain. Researchers also believe that meditation improves memory, empathy and creativity.
What Happens When We Meditate?
With today’s technology, scientists can actually see the difference that takes place in the brain during meditation.
The process is complex but it has to do with the different parts of the brain and how these parts (the frontal lobe, the thalamus, etc.) constantly respond to incoming information. Scientists know from brain imaging the difference in brain patterns that takes place during meditation: our brains actually stop processing certain kinds of information as actively as usual. Because a lot of this information is what makes us anxious or fearful, as we meditate, our brains literally calm us down.
How to Meditate
There are different ways to meditate. It is a very personal practice. You may choose to meditate alone in a room, but many successfully meditate while going about a daily activity.
The idea is that you have to allow yourself to give “focused-attention” to whatever you are doing. One of the easiest ways for some is to focus on a specific thing, like breathing, or a word, or a candle flame. But any activity that enables your brain to shut out all of the other distractions can be considered “mindful meditation”.
But I Can’t Concentrate
It’s okay that your mind wanders. Mindfulness meditation is really about tracking your breathing and thoughts without comment or judgment. Simply notice the thoughts that materialize. Then bring yourself back to the focus point.
Other Tips That Help
- Every time your mind wanders, remind yourself to notice, not think.
- When in doubt, check your breathing, in an out, or count breathes.
- Think of your five senses, Ask yourself, what do I see, hear, feel with my hands, taste, smell?
- Neutralize your spine position
Sit or walk straight with your feet solidly on the ground. By keeping all the vertebrae stacked on top of each other, it opens the pathway for cerebral spinal fluid and for nervous system activity to happen more cleanly. (If you doubt this, try sitting slumped over and you’ll immediately feel less strong, even sadder!)
- Get a little help
One of the best (free!) apps to help you get started with meditation is called Headspace, invented by a former Buddhist monk.
Give it a Try Through the Day
Meditating means being still in your thoughts. Meditate while walking the dog, making bread, stirring your coffee, going for a run, savouring a cup of tea in a china cup, weeding or raking leaves.
Set a 10-minute-a-day goal and see what happens!