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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Power of Meditation

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How 20 minutes alone time with your wandering mind can fill your life with more calm and less anxiety. 

Take a minute and inventory your day. If you’re like most of us, you wake up and reach for your phone. You might have a quick second for breakfast between getting the kids ready and off to school, and then it’s time for a commute that’s never fun (unless you’re a glutton for pain). And that’s just the start. From the moment you leave your house until you go to bed, you’re probably bombarded with emails, notifications, texts, memes, social media, parent teacher conferences, and lots of caffeine just to keep up.

The world moves fast. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, our brains aren’t wired to keep up with the constant escalating white noise that we’re served on a daily basis. It doesn’t just leave us feeling empty and depleted at the end of the day — it’s taking a toll on our health. Anxiety and depression rates underscore our newfound inability to create distance and space from the constant noise in our lives.

Fortunately there’s a powerful cure for modern life, and it doesn’t take pills, or money, or throwing your phone into a river.

It’s meditation.

If you think meditation is a new-age, 10-day-retreat, live-in-the-woods type of thing, it’s time to think again. Because with just 20 minutes a day, meditation can change your life.

Sitting in silence to meditate can feel strange and uncomfortable for most beginners. After all, our brains are conditioned to be constantly on the move. Forcing the mind to slow down is often met with resistance. But in essence, this is what meditation essentially is — calming our minds by sitting with them for a few minutes a day.

While this can seem difficult and daunting, the actual practice of meditation is simple to learn and the techniques are straightforward. Plus, meditating comes with a lot of benefits. Here are few.

Meditation is good for you. Really good.

Simply calming your mind with 10 minutes of meditation comes with a long list of benefits. It’s proven to lower blood pressure, increase circulation, help you process information better, and create a cognitive environment where creativity can thrive.

What’s particularly fascinating about meditation is its ability to help stress management and process negative emotions. Instead of self medicating with food, media binging, or social media consumption, meditation provides the mental space and clarity that true happiness and contentment depends on.

Meditation doesn’t take time. It increases it. 

One of the many myths of meditation is that it takes up precious time during our already busy lives. But this simply isn’t true. Not only can the benefits of meditation be achieved with just a few minutes, but the practice itself actually slows life down. Instead of constantly feeling like we’re running out of time, meditation slows down our breathing and heart rate and brings us into a state of more awareness. When we’re aware of ourselves and our lives, we ultimately spend more of our time on worthwhile goals and enriching activities.

Meditation preserves your brain.

In a recent study conducted by UCLA, researchers discovered that people who had been meditating for 20 years had more grey matter volume as they age compared to non-meditators. Grey matter is responsible for passing signals along to the body’s nervous system, the more it you have, the better you’ll age.

Meditation saves you from the “default mode.” 

When we’re not thinking about anything in particular, our minds wander. And when our minds wander the default mode network (DMN) in our brains kicks into high gear. This results in what’s commonly referred to as “monkey mind” where our minds wander aimlessly from thought to thought. Often this leads to worrying about the past and the future — and all the stress and anxiety that arises when we do. Meditation has the unique ability to quiet the DMN, so when the mind starts to wander it’s easier to snap out of it.

Meditation improves concentration and attention in a few days. 

In the 1950s, people were exposed to around 500 different marketing messages a day. Today it’s estimated that we process close to 10,000. This phenomenon underscores the hyper-connected reality that we currently live in. Between text messages, emails, social media, and television, distraction is a near-constant companion, and our attention spans have suffered accordingly.

Another study showed that just a couple weeks of consistent meditation practice improved people’s focus and memory during the reasoning section of the GRE. Because of the strong central focus on a single object or activity is one of the tenets of meditation, this doesn’t come as a surprise.

How to get started.

Does meditation sound good? Of course it does! But how do you get started? Unlocking the benefits of meditation comes with consistent, daily practice. It doesn’t take a retreat or a class — just a few minutes a day. Fortunately there are several apps like Headspace or Oak that offer either guided meditation sessions or simple timers. Find one that works for you, and then find a quiet corner in your home or office where you won’t be distracted. Designating a specific time of day when you’re less likely to be interrupted (think first thing in the morning, last thing in the evening, or when the kids are napping), and stick with your practice every single day. Like any new skill, meditation will seem difficult and maybe even frustrating at first. That’s ok. You’ve got this. And your mental health and emotional wellbeing will thank you down the road.

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