The word meditation can immediately conjure various images but meditation is about training your brain to bring your thoughts and feelings into awareness. It’s about examining who you are and your place in the world. It teaches you to appreciate every moment for what it is. Meditation tones and strengthens the mind.
Those who practice meditation have long known the benefits it has on the body, mind and soul. Only recently have scientific studies been able to delineate the effects it has on the brain, including stress reduction, improved attention and productivity, better memory and even increased creativity and feelings of compassion.
- The Brain Benefits of Meditation
Meditation has been shown to increase gray matter in the brain — particularly in areas associated with muscle control, sensory perception, memory, emotions and speech. People who meditated at least 30 minutes a day for eight weeks increased gray matter density in their hippocampus — the part of the brain associated with learning and memory.
It’s also been shown to help reduce distress from chronic pain and depression. The benefits of mindfulness training go beyond the brain, too. A 2012 study suggests that meditation may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
- The Happiness Benefits of Meditation
There are also many ways meditation improves quality of life. Evidence suggests meditation can impact how you approach life, how you react to things, and how you interact with others. In some cases, it can allow you to see things more clearly, fill you with a sense of calm, and help you to better deal with the demands of the modern world.
Mindful meditation, also called vipassana, is the heart of Buddhist meditation and the most widely practiced form in Southeast Asia. It emphasizes mindfulness and develops an awareness that is carried into every aspect of your daily experience.
Now that you know the benefits, let’s begin.
To begin the practice of mindful meditation, find a quiet room with few distractions. Set a timer for five minutes and sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair. Keep the body upright, but not uptight. Rest your hands on your knees, relax the shoulders, open the chest and soften the belly.
Close your eyes and connect with your breath by focusing on your breathing without trying to direct it. Your breath is your anchor to the present moment and will guide you back when your mind wanders off in thought.
Count your breaths. Count one breath in, one breath out, and continue through 10 breaths, then return to one again. This process helps connect your mind to your breath, especially when thoughts can sometimes break your concentration. Every time your thoughts wander, start back at one. Eventually, you’ll be able to just follow your breath without counting.
During your meditation, you may experience feelings of frustration, boredom, fear, anxiety, pain or anger, this is all normal. Acknowledge them, and then let them go. The key is not to bring the burden of intense self-judgment into the practice with you. The mind will wander almost instantly, and it will wander often. The point is not to prevent your mind from straying, but rather, bring it back to the present when it does. These moments are when the magic happens.
When your timer goes off, you can slowly open your eyes and resume your day. Like a fish returned to water, you may notice that things flow more easily.
Once you start practicing meditation, be mindful to do it daily. Set aside a time where you will have at least 2-5 minutes of uninterrupted time. As you get into a regular routine, you can up the time to 30 minutes…even longer.
Although it might sound easy, meditation is in fact hard work and it takes a lot of practice to get better. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. And just think, in as little as two minutes, a happier outlook can be yours for the taking.