What can you give yourself that would really make your life a whole lot better? Sure, a new car or a fabulous home would be great. But, let’s dig deeper: what could REALLY change your life?
How about meditation?
“Ugh”, I hear you say, “How boring. This is old news”. But, is it?
Recent scientific studies on the benefits of meditation have shown that the brains of people who meditate regularly are healthier, more disciplined and more focused than the brains of people trying meditation for the first time. The differences between these two groups were verified not only during periods of meditation, but also when the participants’ minds were allowed to wander freely.
One of the research studies found that during meditation and in the mental rest periods in between, a brain region known to be important in focusing and maintaining attention was more likely to be activated in regular meditators than in those who don’t meditate or are new to the practice. During meditation and in everyday life, people who meditate regularly have more skill in reining in their wandering thoughts and bringing the brain back “on track” than people who don’t meditate.
You folks with ADD, ADHD or concentration problems: do I have your attention yet?
Meditating is also helpful in warding off depression. Psychological studies show that people who daydream more often are more likely to feel depressed. And it’s no big surprise to anyone that when you’re depressed, your concentration takes a nose dive. On the other hand, if your mind gets caught in obsessive thinking patterns, meditation gives you the ability to have some “distance” on your thinking and “observe yourself”, rather than judge yourself.
A simple way to try meditation is to sit quietly for a few minutes and focus on your breath. Don’t try to control it; just notice. When you catch your concentration drifting away (and don’t worry, it will) gently bring your focus back to the breath. That’s it! You can also try sitting and repeating a word that brings you peace, like “calm” or “safe”. When thoughts come back over-and-over again, see them as clouds floating through your mind. Let them float on by and bring your attention back to your breath or your word.
Here are some other ways to begin meditating. Try them and see which ones you like. These meditations are adapted from the book, “Wherever you go, There you are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life” by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Mountain meditation: Picture a serene and beautiful mountain. Sit and breathe in the image of your mountain. As you sit, let your head become the peak, your shoulders and arms the sides of the mountain, your buttocks and legs the base. Experience in your body the sense of quiet power and grace of the mountain. Allow yourself to feel centered, rooted and powerful as your mountain.
Lake meditation: See in your mind’s eye a beautiful and calm lake. Once you have a clear image of the lake, allow yourself to “become” the lake. Experience the quietness of the lake and let yourself become the stillness beneath the surface, even when the surface is blown by storms. Use the lake image to sit or lie down in stillness…not going anywhere…peaceful and content.
Walking meditation: Some people find it hard to sit down and meditate, but enjoy walking as meditation. Walking meditation differs from regular walking in that you focus on the walking itself, not your destination. Bring your attention to each step you take as it comes and goes. Doing walking meditation very slowly helps you focus. You can walk back and forth in a straight line or in a circular path: keep it simple. As you walk, let your gaze be a few feet in front of you, and allow the walking to gently calm and relax you.
Whatever type of meditation you try, be patient with yourself. Start with just a few minutes and gradually increase your time. There is no one “right” way to do it; explore different techniques and don’t be surprised when you feel more peaceful, focused and optimistic. Research proves that meditation works. Give yourself a gift that can really change your life.