Meditation has been used for thousands of years to quiet the mind and foster inner calm.
In today’s multi-tasking digital society, creating a regular, if not daily meditation practice, seems a savvy survival tool to bring balance to our lives.
BUT HOW DOES MEDITATION WORK?
In recent studies, neuroscientists suggest that meditating can actually remodel the physical structure of the brain. Yoga and meditation teacher Kelly McGonigal, in a 2010 article in the magazine Yoga Journal, sites a study published in the science publication, NeuroImage, comparing the brains of meditators to age-matched non-meditators which found that meditators had more gray matter in regions of the brain that are important for attention, emotion regulation, and mental flexibility.
The study, by Eileen Luders, a re-searcher in the Department of Neurology at the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine, used a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine and concluded that “…the increased gray matter in the meditators’ brains should make them better at controlling their attention, managing their emotions, and making mindful choices.”
Simply put, you get better doing the things you spend the most time doing. If you spend a lot of time texting while channel surfing on the couch, you’ll become an expert channel-changing, phone-texter!
When applied to meditation, McGonigal adds that researchers discovered “…if you practice focusing attention on your breath or a mantra, the brain will restructure itself to make concentration easier. If you practice calm acceptance during meditation, you will develop a brain that is more resilient to stress. And if you meditate while cultivating feelings of love and compassion, your brain will develop in such a way that you spontaneously feel more connected to others.”
There are a number of ways to meditate, and different options work better for different styles of personalities and learning preferences. If one doesn’t work, try another; making sure that the setting is conducive for relaxing and going inward.
If mediating at home, choose a specific time to meditate, such as after waking. Create a dedicated clutter-free area where cell phones and people you won’t disturb you. (Hang a sign on your bedroom door that says, “Quiet, Meditation in Process!”)
For a classic crossed-legged sitting meditation position, do a few stretches beforehand to prepare your body. Sit up on enough cushions so that your hips are higher than your knees. For extra support, sit with your back against a wall or sit on a chair, making sure your knees are at a right angle, with your feet positioned flat the floor, and your spine straight.
Start with what you have time for. Five minutes a day is valuable if you do it consistently. You’ll probably surprise yourself and do more before too long.
Soften your expectations. Some days it’s easier to focus than others. It’s often helpful to place your awareness on your breath – inhale slowly through your nose for two counts and exhale slowly for two counts. Draw your focus gently back to your breath if you find your attention has wandered. It’s the redrawing of your attention back to your center that trains your mind to serve as a witness to what you are feeling, sensing, and thinking.
As a yoga teacher, students often tell me that they “can’t meditate.” If you open up your definition of meditation, you might find that you already engage in activities that would qualify as meditation.
Cutting and arranging flowers, gazing at a landscape, playing a musical instrument, even writing can shift your brain wave patterns and put you in the zone of relaxed awareness.
START-UP MEDITATION SUGGESTIONS:
Take a meditation class or a yoga class that includes meditation.
Sign up for one of the well-produced 21-Day Meditation Experience programs with Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey, which you can download, or stream online.(https://chopracentermeditation.com/store) Each series includes mantras, short descriptions of the area of study, music and instructions.
Gaze at a seashell or flower, which will activate regions of the brain involved with controlling attention.
Slowly and mindfully cut vegetables for a salad, noticing the shape, color and texture of the produce.
Do a slow walking meditation, breathing consciously with each step.
You don’t have to sit on a cushion and chant OM to find inner peace; you can experience tranquility by placing your attention on your life as it unfolds moment-by-moment, without self-judgment, or expectations.
As author Eckhart Tolle explains, “To know yourself as the Being underneath the thinker, the stillness underneath the mental noise, the love and joy underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment.”