By Dr. Tanya Doman
“There is no good or bad meditation- there simply is awareness or non-awareness. To begin with, we get distracted a lot. Over time, we get distracted less. Be gentle with your approach, be patient with the mind, and be kind to yourself along the way.”
Have you meditated lately?
If you have, you’re in great company with many athletic superstars that swear by the activity’s power to improve their overall health and well-being (& performance).
If you immediately picture a group of people gathered in silence… on the ground… while barefoot… for 30+minutes, don’t fret: meditation takes many different forms and can be as simple as noticing your breathing. Even prayers or mantras are a type of meditation activity.
For starters, let’s talk about why you should meditate or the benefits of it according to research.
- Boosts productivity
- Relaxes the nervous system
- Reduces anxiety
- Normalizes blood pressure
- Decreases stress
- Improves thinking, problem-solving and focus
- Rewires the brain
- Provides an energy boost
- Helps manage pain
- Slows aging
- Improves memory
- Promotes a sense of calmness
- Increases performance (including during stress)
- Improves creativity
- Regulates your emotions and response to emotions (positively)
- Increases satisfaction with relationships
- Develops brain tissue – particularly grey matter!
- Maximizes a sense of well-being
Think of your mind as a cellphone. You must plug it in sometimes to recharge it, otherwise it won’t work. Meditation, I’ll add, doesn’t even take as long as charging a cellphone!
Here are some tips for starting a meditation practice:
- Find an uncluttered space
- Sitting is preferred but if not, laying down on your back is fine. (And if you drift off, that’s okay too)
- Start with a small amount of time
- Be the observer
- Cultivate a sense of awareness by focusing on your breath
- Make your breathing slower and deeper, intentionally
- Set a timer on your phone for 2 minutes to start. (Put your phone in “airplane mode” so you won’t be disturbed)
Like most good habits, consistency is key! Eventually you will find that you can expand the duration of your “awareness practice” with less and less intruding thoughts. Finding a consistent time of the day is helpful toward making meditation a habit.
Your mind WILL have thoughts. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t be human. Be easy on yourself and don’t judge yourself for not mastering the practice or for having racing thoughts. Try and picture those thoughts going down a river, or being put in a balloon floating away, or even a cloud…etc.
Keep it simple even if that means counting to 100…or 50!
Closing your eyes is the most common practice. However, some people find it more helpful to focus on an object like a lit candle.
Something I have found helpful is to have a notebook with you in case something comes up that you want to write down. Remember: meditation boosts productivity and thinking.
While some people rely on specialized apps (Like Headspace mentioned above), or white noise, others find pure silence is what they need to unplug.
Meditation is an inherent ability of our bodies. It's just a name given to the activity when the nervous system, including your brain and senses, tune themselves up and sync better together. Your nervous system has the innate ability to sooth and heal (more on that in future posts). During this meditation, we let it do its job.
Chronic pain patients were able to reduce their doctor visits by 36% when they added meditation according to a 1991 study (http://lorinroche.com/page4/page4.html)
And since the 2000’s, meditation has been studied by mainstream scientists so much so that it has become a credible approach to improve health, and not just something that people would think is part of some yoga practices.
In a meta-analysis of RCTs, which is the most intense and valid research you could read, meditation was declared beneficial for anxiety with results happening in as little as 2 (two) weeks.
Orme-Johnson and Barnes VA, 2014 J of Alt and Comp Med (https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2013.0204)
if you are sleep-deprived, meditation can help increase your alertness during the day and stave off some of those sleep deprived impairments (like driving and job or school-related tasks) according to JAMA Int Med (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2110998) and also reported by Nov 2018 Men’s Health mag.
Here's another great bonus: It’s FREE!
As always, I’m leaving you with some homework: try the above steps and report back. Or if you are already “heavily meditated”, I would love to hear about your results.
“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” – Anonymous
“Whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. What is soft is strong.” Lao Tzu (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laozi