Although it cannot solve all problems, meditation can give you some peace of mind that you desperately need. It can also help you develop better judgement so that you can make better decisions for yourself, your loved ones, and your community. The most important things you need for a successful meditation practice are patience, self-compassion, and a comfortable place to sit.
But if you’re still not convinced, here are 10 science-backed benefits of meditation. Meditation brings a plethora of benefits into our lives that are both far-reaching and long-lasting. The best part is that you don’t need any extra gear or an expensive membership to reap these rewards. If you’re still not convinced, here are 10 science-backed benefits of meditation.
Here are five reasons to meditate:
- Understanding your pain
- Lower your stress
- Connect better
- Improve focus
- Reduce brain chatter
How Much Should I Meditate?
Meditation is very simple, although it can be quite challenging. It is definitely worth doing though, as it is powerful. The key is to make sure to do it every day, even if it is for just a few minutes. Sharon Salzberg, a meditation teacher, says that the most important moment in your meditation practice is when you actually sit down to do it. This is because by doing so, you are showing yourself that you believe in change and that you are willing to care for yourself. You are not just holding some abstract values such as mindfulness or compassion, but you are making them real.
The research showed that by meditating for just 12 minutes, 5 days a week, you can improve and strengthen your ability to pay attention.
Benefits to Body and Brain
While regular meditation practice has many benefits, it is important to note that these benefits are not just theoretical. Research has shown that meditation can lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety. Furthermore, meditation can also increase the brain’s processing speed, memory formation, and decision-making abilities.
These results suggest that meditation can create lasting changes at a molecular level. This study found that meditation can have lasting changes at a molecular level, by upregulating genes related to energy metabolism and by downregulating genes related to inflammation and the body’s stress response.
Beginning a Primal Meditative Practice
So you’re convinced, but where’s the time? How can you do this without becoming overwhelmed by the random itches and distractions that come up whenever you sit down to “quiet” yourself?
I don’t want to act like I’m a guru, because I’m not. I’m just a regular person who has been influenced by my wife to learn a few things over the years. I’m not an expert, but I do have enough experience to offer some advice.
Begin by setting a small, achievable goal for yourself. Don’t try to meditate for an hour if you’re just starting out. Deeper peace comes with longer meditation, but it’s not necessary for everyone. Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t, and create as much time as possible for meditation, even if it’s only ten minutes. The benefits of meditation will help you to prioritize it and make more time for it. Keep in mind that mediation can lead to a more peaceful life, better concentration, and a more restful sleep. These things will make you more efficient and give you the extra time you need to keep up your practice. Like exercise, it takes time and commitment to see results.
You are more likely to stick to a meditation practice if you do it in a group, because you do not want to be the person who disrupts the group. Over time, this will become your default behavior, and you can transfer this discipline to your home practice.
You can use the power of habit to your advantage by associating meditative relaxation with a specific space and time. After attending a group setting for a while, you can begin to respond in the same way Pavlov’s dog began salivating when the bell rang. Create the same associations at home by trying to practice at the same time of day or in the same space for a while. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you can meditate anywhere.
To start practicing meditation, sit up straight on a folded blanket or comfortable pillow. You can also use a chair or lay on the floor if you think you can stay awake.
Focus on your breath going in and out. Do not try to control it, just let it happen naturally. Allow yourself to think whatever thoughts come into your mind, and then release them without judgement. Be aware of how your body feels and where you are holding tension. Use your breath to help release the tension. Practice this until you can achieve a state of clear, silent awareness. If you need help, try attending a group instruction or listening to a good CD recording.
Although other techniques exist, one way to meditate is to set an intention for the session and let go of it. This is about getting underneath the mental chatter, letting the scripts of our feelings fall away, and sitting with the “raw energy,” as Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chodron (among others) explains. With time we can learn to more casually observe the emotional energy and how it feels in our bodies.
Meditation gives us time to explore what is beyond our rational minds. It allows us to connect with our more primal selves and experience something deeper. Even though it is only for a short time, it can dramatically change our lives.
How to Make Mindfulness a Habit
It is estimated that 95% of our behavior is automatic. This is because our habits are based on neural networks, which simplify the millions of sensory inputs we receive every second so that we can function in the world. These default brain signals are so efficient that they often cause us to relapse into old behaviors before we remember what we meant to do instead.
Mindfulness is the polar opposite of these natural processes. It is a form of executive control that allows for intentional actions, willpower, and decisions. However, this does not come naturally and takes a lot of practice. The more we use our intentional brain, the stronger it becomes. Every time we do something that is out of the norm, we stimulate neuroplasticity, which in turn activates our grey matter. This is full of newly sprouted neurons that have not yet been groomed to work on autopilot.
The problem is that our brain on autopilot causes us to take shortcuts through life instead of what is best for us. We can use behavior design to put our intentional brain in charge by either slowing down the autopilot brain or by removing obstacles in the path of the intentional brain.
There are some things you can do to help your intentional brain have more power. Here are some ways to get started.
- Put meditation reminders around you. If you intend to do some yoga or to meditate, put your yoga mat or your meditation cushion in the middle of your floor so you can’t miss it as you walk by.
- Refresh your reminders regularly. Say you decide to use sticky notes to remind yourself of a new intention. That might work for about a week, but then your autopilot brain and old habits take over again. Try writing new notes to yourself; add variety or make them funny. That way they’ll stick with you longer.
- Create new patterns. You could try a series of “If this, then that” messages to create easy reminders to shift into the intentional brain. For instance, you might come up with, “If office door, then deep breath,” as a way to shift into mindfulness as you are about to start your workday. Or, “If the phone rings, take a breath before answering.” Each intentional action to shift into mindfulness will strengthen your intentional brain.
More Styles of Mindfulness Meditation
Other forms of meditation to consider once you have explored a basic seated meditation practice include walking and lying down meditations. Instead of using the breath as a focal point, these meditations below focus on different parts of the body.
Introduction to the Body Scan Meditation
Try checking in with your body by feeling your feet on the ground, then slowly moving up your body, noticing all the sensations you feel. Don’t judge, worry, or wonder about anything, just notice the physical sensations. Aches and pains are fine.
Begin to focus your attention on different parts of your body, starting with your toes and moving up through your legs, pelvis, abdomen, lower and upper back, chest, shoulders, arms, and fingers. For each part of the body, spend a few moments notice the different sensations you feel.
You should bring back your attention to the last thing you can remember when you realize that your mind has wandered.
If you fall asleep during the body-scan relaxation technique, it is okay. If you realize you have been nodding off, take a deep breath to help you become more alert and perhaps adjust your body position (which will also help wake up your body). When you are ready, return your attention to the part of the body you were last focusing on.
Introduction to the Walking Meditation
While many of us have sedentary lifestyles, we can still be mindful by incorporating physical activity into our daily routine. Walking is a great way to be active and present in the moment. Here are some tips on how to make your walk a mindful experience.
Begin by walking at a comfortable pace, with your hands placed where it is most comfortable for you – on your stomach, behind your back, or at your sides.
- If you find it useful, you can count steps up to 10, and then start back at one again. If you’re in a small space, as you reach ten, pause, and with intention, choose a moment to turn around.
- With each step, pay attention to the lifting and falling of your foot. Notice movement in your legs and the rest of your body. Notice any shifting of your body from side to side.
- Whatever else captures your attention, come back to the sensation of walking. Your mind will wander, so without frustration, guide it back again as many times as you need.
- Particularly outdoors, maintain a larger sense of the environment around you, taking it all in, staying safe and aware.