The practice of meditation dates back for centuries. It comes in many forms, but all are aimed at either inducing a mode of consciousness or training the mind. Regular meditation, says the Art of Living Foundation, can improve your immune system, lower your blood pressure, decrease your anxiety and increase your happiness, among other benefits.
Naturally, meditation is worthwhile for just those known benefits alone, but a study conducted by Harvard researchers has shown that this practice can literally make a positive impact on your brain. Read on to learn more about this remarkable find and for some meditation tips.
The Study’s Fascinating Findings
As reported by the Harvard Gazette, a team of Harvard researchers conducted a meditation study at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. Magnetic resonance (MR) images were taken of the brain structure of the 16 participants two weeks before and two weeks after they took part in an eight-week meditation stress-reduction program.
The participants took part in weekly meetings with mindfulness meditation sessions, and they also received guided meditation practice recordings. As part of the study, they were also asked to keep track of their practice time each day. For control purposes, a group of people who were not meditating also had a set of MR images done over the same time period.
When researchers analyzed the post-program MR images of meditating participants, they found an increase in the hippocampus’ gray matter density, which is the area of the brain associated with memory and learning and also an uptick in brain structures related to introspection, compassion and self-awareness. On question and answer sheets, participants also noted reductions in feelings of stress, which the study results corroborated by showing a decrease in brain matter in the area of the brain associated with stress and anxiety.
How To Get Started
Other studies have also shown the positive effects of meditation on your mind. For example, Science Daily covered a study done by Michigan State University that showed meditation may be able to help you tame negative emotions. With all the benefits that meditation has to offer, now is the time to start or recommit yourself to the practice. Check out the following tips to get you on the road to a healthier brain and a quieter peace of mind.
Start With Just Two Minutes
Start off by simply sitting for two minutes each day for a week to ease yourself into the practice. If this goes well, increase the next week by another two minutes, and so on. Starting small will help you get into the habit of meditating easier, ensuring that you’ll stick to it in the long term.
Do It In The Morning, First Thing
It’s all too easy to commit to daily meditation but then forget to do it as the day goes on. Do your practice first thing, and put up a note or set a phone reminder for it, so it’s much harder to forget about it.
Keep It Simple
Another trap that’s easy to fall into is the how of meditation. Don’t worry about how to sit, where to sit or what pillow to sit on…all of that stuff is nice and may be something you address later, but worrying about all of that at the start could derail your progress. Start off by just sitting wherever you want on whatever you want. As you practice more often, you can begin to tweak the elements, such as where you are and what you’re using when you meditate.
Count Each Of Your Breaths
Once you’re settled in, pay attention to your breathing. Focus on it as it comes, and follow the air through your nose and into your lungs. You can try counting when you breathe in and breathe out. Go up to the count of ten, and then start over, so it’s easier to keep track.
Bring Your Wandering Mind Back
Your mind will wander when you meditate, and that’s entirely normal. When you notice it happening, don’t freak out. Just smile when it happens and return your focus right back to your breath and your counting. With practice, you will get better at keeping your mind from wandering, so don’t let the initial frustration dissuade you from the practice.
When feelings and thoughts come to you during meditation, look at them with friendliness and not as if they are enemies or intruders. These things are part of you, although they don’t represent all of you.
Don’t worry about doing it “wrong” or total mind clearing
You will probably be concerned about meditating incorrectly. But there is no wrong way to meditate, so just be happy that you’re doing it to begin with.
Meditation isn’t just about stopping all your thoughts or clearing your mind entirely. While this can happen sometimes, it’s not the overall goal. Thoughts are entirely normal, so instead of trying to stop them all, work on focusing your attention and bringing that focus back whenever your mind begins to wander.
Go With The Flow
Sometimes, going back to your breath isn’t the way to go when you meditate. You may want to stay with your feelings or thoughts on occasion. This is because we tend to avoid negative feelings, like anger and anxiety. If they are popping up during your practice, it could be a sign that you need to observe them to work past them.
Learn More About Yourself
Meditation is about focusing your attention and learning just how your mind works. When you watch your mind avoid certain feelings, wander or experience frustration, you can begin to get a truer understanding of yourself.
Do Some Body Scans
A body scan is a way to get more into tune with your body as you progress. Focus all your attention on one part of your body at a time. Start with the bottom of your feet, and move up from there, noting how each part feels at that moment.
Remember It Can Be Done Anywhere
From work to home, you can practice wherever you are. Don’t let location become an excuse for putting meditation off. Make time for it in the office, at home or when you’re traveling.
Be Truly Committed
It’s easy to say you’re going to do it, but you have to mean it. Try to commit to meditating at least for one month when you start out, and don’t let it fall by the wayside after the first week. Consider joining a local meditation club or community to help keep yourself motivated and on top of your practice.
Use the tips above to dive headfirst into meditation and experience all the brain and mind benefits it has to offer. The more you practice, the better off you’ll be, so make sure to carve some time out in your life for this simple practice.