Did you know that you already meditate? Have you ever said to yourself or anyone else when confronted with a challenging situation ‘Take a deep breath’ or you count to ten before saying something (that you might regret later)? These are forms of meditation. I bet you feel better after taking that deep breath or by counting to ten before reacting. That’s because you have taken that present moment to get some clarity to focus on the situation before reacting. Meditation benefits are at work and you probably didn’t realize it. By taking that breath your body will start to relax and your mind will become more clear. Meditation is a practice that can yield amazing health benefits for mind, body and spirit.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist Monk who is famous for his humorous and down to earth teachings, defines meditation as awareness and this awareness is like space that doesn’t change. It is present, pure and always there. He also points out that we are all aware beings! (you might be thinking to yourself that ‘I’m not aware’ but just the fact that you know you are not aware proves you are aware (of not being aware). Do you get it? Read on. If you were to practice meditation on a daily basis here is what you might experience.
I’m sure all of us have had at one time or another feelings of being emotionally lost and out of touch with ourselves. We have somewhere along the human journey become disconnected from our own awareness. Meditation brings us back to the awareness. A regular meditation practice quiets the mind which allows for a stronger connection between body and mind. Greater clarity and peace of mind is achieved. Other benefits for being more self-aware is an improved mood, better communication in your relationships and increased productivity.
Scientists have been studying the benefits of meditation for decades and have concluded that meditation is not all woo woo feel good mumbo jumbo stuff. Studies (1) have shown that there is a cause and effect between meditation and brain activity. Meditation decreases levels of activity of the part of the brain responsible for inflammation, high blood pressure, brain fog and mind chatter. These are all conditions that can occur when we are stressed. When we are stressed, we produce more cortisol, the stress hormone. By meditating and reducing these conditions, we are then better able to stay in the present moment and focus on tasks at hand thus decreasing our stress levels and increasing a state of well-being.
Increased Memory and Concentration
Meditation has been shown to increase gray matter in certain regions of the brain which correlate with increase in memory, attention and concentration. In one study (1), a group of meditators were asked to mindfully meditate for 8 weeks. After the eight weeks, the study showed that the gray matter in the learning and memory areas of the brain had increased in size as compared with the non-meditating control group. The meditators were also able to increase the strength and endurance of their attention being able to focus on tasks longer. As you can imagine, better cognitive brain function would greatly reduce our stress levels and again create a sense of well-being.
Increased Emotional Intelligence
The same study showed an increase in the hippocampus volume. The hippocampus is a region in the brain that among other things is involved with the regulation of emotion. The hippocampus has also been targeted as an area of the brain that anti-depressants are involved. Therefore increased volume of the hippocampus is probably what is responsible for the relief of depression and other anti-anxiety disorders. Mindful meditation can reduce your need for anti-depressant treatments.
In mindful meditation, a form of meditation that focuses on your breath to help reach the meditative state, it is taught to welcome any negative feelings such as anger, fear, frustration, panic into the meditation. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche teaches that through meditating on the negative feeling, eventually the bad feeling will go away. The negative emotion is dealt with during the meditation and the emotion is eventually released rather than repressed.
By meditating every day and developing a practice of it, negative emotions arising can be addressed easily and effortlessly. Meditation is like a muscle. It must be used consistently and it will grow and benefit you as you grow as a person.
Quick Tips on Meditating
- You would think meditating would be pretty easy but it actually isn’t. It is really hard to sit still and quiet the mind for any length of time. That is why starting out for a short period of time like 5 minutes is a great starting point and once you are comfortable with that, increase the time.
- To get the maximum benefits of meditation, it should be practiced on a daily basis. That is why starting out for 5 minutes is also a good idea. Usually people if committed and dedicated to a meditation practice will be able to carve out a 5-minute period of time each day. Do it each day and eventually it will become a habit.
- Research what type of meditation you would like to do. There are many types. In later blog posts, I’ll be reviewing different types. A good one to start with would be mindful meditation. This is just focusing on your breathing for a period of time until you get into a relaxed state. You can meditate sitting, laying down, walking, eyes open or closed or as part of a yoga practice. Experiment and find out which one works best for you.
- Wear comfortable clothing and find a comfortable place where you will not be disturbed.
- By following these tips the benefits of meditation will create amazing results for you.
Side Effects of Meditating
Not only can meditation create feelings of calm, well-being, happiness and love, other positive emotions will naturally occur such as compassion and kindness. Something that is greatly needed in today’s world.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche emphasizes that from meditation comes connecting with your awareness and over time, a wonderful transformation can occur. This would be the ultimate benefit and from transforming yourself, you help to transform the world.