The many benefits of meditation are no secret to most of us. Thousands of articles have appeared in the last couple of decades highlighting the personal experiences of meditators and dozens of scientific studies that have been done. Across the board, everyone agrees that meditation is beneficial in many ways.
Stress grips most of us daily. At the end of the day, we just want to relax and unwind. But, most of us don't find a way that is actually beneficial. New findings from studies are telling us that sitting in front of the television for several hours every night is not good. Not only does it make us fat, but it also makes us more materialistic, disturbs our sleep and makes us less intelligent. Sitting in front of a computer all night is really just more of the same. The fact is that these activities do not relieve stress and may even contribute to it.
One thing that we can do to relieve our stress is meditate at least once a day. Like the breathing exercises from last week, even ten minutes of meditation can be very beneficial. According to an article in Psychology Today, neuroscientists found that meditation moves brain waves from the right frontal cortex (the stress area) to the left frontal cortex (yep, the calm area). They also found "less activity in the amygdala, where the brain processes fear." Other research findings have suggested that meditation increases gray matter, makes people calmer and happier, and can help improve performance at work or school. With all these benefits (and no know negative effects), it's amazing that more people aren't meditating.
Of course, like anything that is really good for you, meditation requires a bit of effort and habit formation. There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of different meditation techniques from ancient traditions to modern hybrids. Some may be more effective than others, so give a few techniques a try. The most basic forms in almost every tradition start with focusing on the breath. Take one of the breathing exercises from last Monday's post and begin there. If you are counting your breaths, just concentrate on the numbers, relaxing your mind and letting other thoughts come and go.
Eventually, you may want to try more advanced meditation techniques where you learn to just sit and be without any thoughts. While this takes months or even years of practice for most, the benefits to the mind and body are astounding. The only way to get there is to take the first step. Remember, every journey always begins with the first step. So, start tonight before you go to bed. Sit on the edge of your bed or in a chair and stop your mind for a couple of minutes by focusing on counting your breaths. Notice how you feel when you finish. Beginning a practice in meditation is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Be healthy!