Do you currently have a regular meditation practice? If not, you need to, according to much research and study on the subject of meditation and the brain. More and more benefits from meditation have been found in recent research and the results are astounding.
Meditation can have numerous positive and lasting effects on everything from memory recall to increased productivity, stress reduction and increased immune system function.
A recent study out of Harvard University also just shed light on another important benefit of meditation. It was once believed that the benefits of meditation only occurred during meditation or shortly after a meditation practice. Now studies have shown that meditation can have lasting effects, long after you are done meditating. For example, meditation can lesson an individual's emotional responsiveness to frustrating stimuli or situations, say your boss at work who drives you mad. Meditation can help with that!
With a regular meditation practice, you can create new neural pathways that allow you to handle frustration, stress and tension more effectively- so you respond instead of react.
Two different types of meditation practices were studied- (though there are several different types out there) mindfulness meditation and compassionate meditation. The former focuses on bringing your attention- your awareness- to your breath, thoughts and emotions with non-judgement. The latter, compassionate meditation, focuses on extending compassion and loving-kindness to yourself and others.
Other recent studies have shown that respondents who regularly engage in a meditation practice report less depression and more satisfaction in life. Another study indicated that mindfulness meditation can improve memory recall (i.e. individuals were able to more easily and effectively recall and incorporate new information) and also were able to concentrate more at the task at hand, by tuning out outside distractions. And we all have those!
Yet another important study showed that a regular mindfulness meditation practice can increase empathy, compassion and introspection, along with enhancing learning and memory recall, all while reducing stress and anxiety. There is no pill out there that has those benefits- and there are no “side effects” with meditation.
If you have yet to incorporate a meditation practice into your daily life, I invite you give it a try. As shown, the benefits are immense and worthwhile.
If the term “meditation” has thrown you off in the past- you feel that you don't know how to do it “properly”- I encourage you to call it a stillness practice. We all know how to be still!
If you have had trouble in the past “turning off” your mind, you don't have to. That's not what meditation is either. It simply is a practice where you notice your thoughts and then release them without judgement. For instance, your mental chatter might go something like this: “Ok, I'm sitting here, meditating...oh wait, did I close the garage door?...wait, meditate...my back hurts...shhhh...I'm focusing on my breath...did I brush my teeth?...I can't do this, see I'm thinking right now. I'm supposed to release all thoughts and be like a blank slate...” This is simply not the case, and thankfully so.
Meditation is not about clearing your mind so you are devoid of all thoughts. At this point in your stillness practice, you would simply notice you are having thoughts and label them as thoughts. Not good or bad, just thoughts, and then release them- as many teachers like to say “like clouds passing in the sky”. More thoughts will come, they always do. Just notice that you are again having thoughts and bring your attention, your awareness, back to your breath, in and out.
Even after years of meditation practice and teaching, I still often find it difficult to meditate. I, too, like everyone else on this planet has a “monkey mind”...I still try because I do feel better, more refreshed, center and alive afterward. It helps immensely to have a guided meditation to listen to- you can find many excellent ones on this site.
Choose what resonates with you and then give it a try, even for five minutes a day. You can then work your way up to 15, 20, 30. Whatever works for you and your lifestyle. The goal is less stress, not more. Begin today to incorporate this practice into your life. I know you too will experience the amazing benefits of this powerful practice.