If you want to sharpen your mind, decrease stress and improve the quality of your life, meditation can help. Meditation cultivates mindfulness and is a drug-free way to control and prevent anxiety and, to a certain extent, depression. It can also help you cope with physical pain or discomfort, such as back pain or headaches.
The aim of meditation is to sit in a relaxed position with your back straight or supported and quiet the mind. However, it isn’t about suppressing your thoughts, but more about catching yourself when your mind wanders and gently bringing your focus back to your breathing and body. It can be done with or without guidance. You can find such guidance in meditation classes, in one-on-one coaching sessions, or by using apps such as Insight Timer or Headspace.
I use the free app, Insight Timer every day (as much as possible). Since using it, I find that I am more focused and productive. I also feel more relaxed. My husband John uses the Headspace app and finds it’s a great way to start the day.
In their book Altered Traits, science journalist Daniel Goleman and neuroscientist Richard Davidson explain how long-term meditation can transform us in profound and lasting ways. When practiced consistently over time, it can permanently alter our general traits for the better.
According to the authors, regular meditation and mindfulness have a calming effect on the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes emotions. This calming effect helps reduce impulsive reactions to stressful or negative thoughts and experiences. Brain scans on Tibetan monks who have spent years cultivating compassion, kindness and meditation reveal high gamma waves. Gamma brain waves are associated with resilience, happiness and high levels of cognitive function. Tibetan monks also had increased activity in the anterior insula, the part of the brain that integrates mind and body and supports well-being.
In his interview with Jonathan Fields, Goleman explains how long-term meditators or people on retreats who meditate for six hours a day, have a “down regulation” of the genes that cause inflammation. These genes, which cause disorders such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, tend to go quiet in individuals that meditate a lot.
Yes, I would like to meditate more and have the brain waves of a Tibetan monk, but my current lifestyle doesn’t allow me to meditate six hours a day! I suspect that most, if not all, of my readers are in the same boat. Nevertheless, 10 to 20 minutes of meditation every day makes a difference. I feel more calm and at peace with myself and my surroundings.