The modern world has left almost no room for rest for the mind. We are surrounded by gadgets through which we constantly consume new information. Even chatting with your girlfriends is a job in your brain’s mind.
It turns out that our brain is constantly working, trying to “digest” the information around us. And this process doesn’t stop even while we are playing at a casino, going out with friends, or sleeping at night. Add to this the stress of everyday problems, and the global news isn’t conducive to relaxation. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that recently the ability to “turn off” the head, focus on specific things and direct the flow of thoughts in the right direction has moved into one of the primary needs of Maslow’s pyramid.
And this is where meditation comes in. What is it and how exactly does it work?
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is a set of techniques that aim to increase concentration and awareness. The goal of meditation is to abstract away from external factors and focus on the present moment, using certain “anchors”. This can be breathing, repeating a mantra, performing some kind of movement, or constructing a visual series.
Our task during a meditative exercise is to narrow down the amount of incoming information that needs to be processed, so that gradually the brain gets used to resting and reloading. It’s a completely unfamiliar state for the brain, just as it is for humans.
How Meditation Affects Brain Function
Despite the fact that meditation isn’t a therapeutic tool, there are many studies that prove its benefits for physical and psychological health. For example, a study by a professor from Harvard Medical School demonstrated the positive effect of meditation on depression. Moreover, it was found that meditation provoked changes in the volume of the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress.
Another study shows that in people who have practiced meditation for many years in a row, the release of stress hormones is significantly weakened. And another found that meditation increases the volume of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and emotion formation.
According to specialists from the United States and Tibet, who conducted studies among people who constantly practice contemplative meditation, during this process neural activity in the centers responsible for the experience of happiness increased by 700-800%.
At the same time, experts agree that meditation is not a substitute for full therapeutic treatment, but it can enhance it.
If the above arguments aren’t enough, look at meditation as a way to change the way you think about things. For example, if you have experienced an unpleasant situation, meditation can help you deal with the negativity more quickly and move on.
Meditation is a way to be alone with yourself, to better understand your inner state, and to learn to fix your feelings in the moment.
Finally, meditation really helps to fight stress. As you know, the main helper in this is working with the breath. In meditation, you just concentrate on the breath and sharpen this skill, so that in the future you will be able to cope with anxiety in any situation.
That said, don’t forget that meditation is a great way to relax and unwind. In terms of brain physiology, meditation is similar to rest. The beta rhythm that is characteristic of an active waking state fades, allowing the brain to stop processing large amounts of information and recover.
How to Start Meditating
Despite its popularity, meditation is still surrounded by many myths that prevent people from starting the practice. Many people think that meditation is long, that it requires a special place, that one must practice only in a certain posture, that one must follow precise rules, that one must use certain supplements, and so on. We answer at once: these are true myths. And you will be able to meditate literally immediately after reading this article. Follow these simple tips.
Choose a Comfortable Posture
It’s a mistake to think that you should meditate in the lotus position. It’s up to you to choose a comfortable position-some people like to meditate lying on their backs, others sitting in a chair. The key is that you should feel comfortable, secure and have as little interaction with your environment as possible. For example, if you choose to meditate lying down, place your hands, palms up, so you don’t feel the surface you’re lying on.
Find a Quiet Place Where No One Will Distract You
It can be any place, even your desk in the office. The main thing is to provide yourself a few minutes without interaction with other people.
When you start, set yourself a comfortable limit. For example, three to five minutes will be quite enough for the first time. There are no specific recommendations for the duration of meditation. The main thing is that it should be joyful and not bring discomfort.
Concentrate on the Breath
Watch every inhale and exhale, don’t let your thoughts wander. As soon as you realize you are distracted, gently return to your breathing. It won’t be easy to concentrate at first, but gradually you’ll learn how to do it.
Don’t Judge Yourself and Let Go of Skepticism
The goal of meditation is to fill your head with positive emotions. So try not to judge or judge yourself in the process. Like everything in this life, meditation gets better with practice. So just keep trying.
Tips for Making Meditation Easier
To meditate regularly, put meditation classes on your calendar or set a reminder on your phone. You can tie meditation into your daily routine. For example, set aside time to meditate after showering or before breakfast.
Meditation should not take place in complete silence. Since our final goal is to be able to concentrate in any situation, it’s better to begin the practice immediately in a real environment. And reality is rarely silent.
You can use apps to guide the meditation process. Of course, gadgets and meditation are not the best combination, but at first guiding instructions can help a lot. The most popular apps are Calm and Headspace.
If you don’t feel anything during meditation, it doesn’t mean that you are doing something wrong. In any case, you are giving your head a rest. Continue to observe your sensations.
Sometimes you may fall asleep while meditating. This is normal to begin with, and with practice your brain will learn to see the difference between slowing down and shutting down completely.
Remember that there is no “right” or “wrong” in meditation. The important thing is to focus on your breath and always come back to it if you feel distracted.
The practice of concentrating on your breath and the tip of your nose is good for beginners. To perform this simple exercise, close your eyes, breathe on the principle “inhale for two counts – exhale for four,” while keeping your “gaze” with your eyes closed on the tip of your nose. One to three minutes a day will be enough to start with.
A second cool exercise for attention training is to work with your hands. Extend your hands in front of you, palms perpendicular to the floor and turn to you with the back side. Bring your palms gradually to your face, constantly keeping your attention on both hands. Breathe evenly. By doing this exercise for at least a minute a day, you can greatly expand your attention-holding abilities and move on to more complex forms of meditation.
What Meditation Techniques Are Available and Which One to Choose
There are many meditation techniques and methods. Some are directly related to teachings from Eastern religions. But for beginners, as well as those who want to work on concentration without delving into the nuances, we suggest paying attention to the most common meditation techniques that are suitable for absolutely everyone.
This meditation is excellent for reducing stress and anxiety, practicing attention and concentration.
During this meditation, you learn to focus on the present moment. The breath is used as an anchor.
Get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, and listen to the sensations and sounds around you. Pay attention to anything that distracts you. Gradually move from the outside to the inside: feel what you are breathing, be aware of how your body changes as you breathe, what sensations arise in each part. Finally, concentrate completely on the breath. Breathe relaxedly, don’t try to do it on purpose.
Body scan meditation is good as a bedtime activity because it helps release tension, take away pain, and relax on a physical level.
Lie on your back and take several deep breaths and exhales. Try to breathe with your belly rather than your chest, noting how it inflates and deflates as you breathe. The goal is to minimize any, even insignificant movements in the body. Gradually shift your attention to the tips of your toes and begin “scanning. Become aware of your toes and feel them. Move on from the bottom to the top, paying attention to a different part of the body each time. If you feel pain or cramping, stop and breathe through the discomfort. Imagine them leaving you.
While meditating, try to notice where tension accumulates in your body so that you can release it in time.
This is a great technique for developing mindfulness, self-care, love for others, and a sense of happiness.
In this meditation, the repetition of a mantra will hold your attention and prevent distraction. Choose a mantra to repeat before practice. The most common ones are syllables or words from Eastern religions and teachings, such as “om” or “shanti. But you can choose a phrase that fits your mood or purpose. For example: “I feel compassion,” or “I am happy and calm,” and so on. There can be no wrong choice. The main thing is that the mantra should set you in a positive frame of mind.
When you have chosen a mantra, assume a comfortable posture. You can set a timer, turn on a white noise or light aromatic oils – anything that will make your practice even more comfortable. Start with a few deep breaths and exhales. Afterwards, incorporate a mantra – you can say it out loud or to yourself. Gradually work out your rhythm. Say the mantra slowly, as if humming. Don’t forget to gently bring yourself back to the rhythm if you feel distracted. When the meditation is over, listen to how you feel.
This type of meditation helps lift your mood, increase your concentration, ease discomfort in your body, reduce stress levels, but most importantly, develop empathy and compassion for people.
Visualization meditation is one of the most popular. It is often used by athletes to visualize success and achieve new goals. It’s easiest to do the practice with special applications where you will be prompted by images. But you can also work on your own.
Imagine a place you’ve been before where you feel especially happy and safe. Focus on the images from that place and the joyful emotions it evokes.
Another common visualization technique is the meditation of love and kindness. In this case, you conjure up an image of someone close to you and direct your love and light feelings toward them. Imagine this person joyful, remember their laughter or smile. Be sure to visualize the emotion. For example, love is a glowing ball of your heart.
Over time, you can complicate the task and imagine unfamiliar people or those for whom you have mixed feelings. As a result, you should be filled with love for all living things, mercy, and compassion.
Meditation isn’t just a tribute to fashion, but a proven way of dealing with anxiety, which also teaches you to take control of your emotions and focus on what’s important. In fact, it’s an easy way to improve your quality of life right now without much effort. Try it and you might like it.