When you hear the word “meditation” what comes to mind? Buddhist monks chanting for hours, new age hippies burning incense, pagan religions? There are so many misconceptions about the practice of meditation, because over thousands of years, people have taken this simple act of sitting quietly and just breathing, and made it into something more. Meditation can be whatever you choose it to be. For me personally, it’s a science-backed wellness practice that really helps keep me balanced.
What is meditation, really?
It’s a practice of sitting quietly and comfortably (no lotus position required), breathing slowly and deeply, and focusing solely on your breath. This sounds so simple, but in reality is NOT easy to do. All kinds of thoughts run through your mind in an endless stream. What will I fix for dinner? I need to get the oil changed in the car…when’s my dentist appointment next week? There’s a big shoe sale at Nordstrom’s on Friday…and on and on. The trick is to acknowledge these thoughts, let them pass by, then come back to your breathing. Notice the sound of your breath, the pause between the exhale and inhale as you breath slowly, and sensations in your body. No chanting, no incense, and no prayers required!
In the last 15 years, hundreds of published, peer-reviewed scientific studies have reported the physical and mental health benefits of meditation (I’ve cited some of them in the Sources section below). Here are a few:
- Increases immune function
- Reduces pain
- Decreases inflammation at the cellular level
- Increases positive emotions
- Decreases depression
- Calms anxiety (see here and here and here)
- Reduces stress
- Increases mental focus & attention
- Improves ability to multitask
- Improves memory
- Enhances creativity
- Increases volume of the brain’s grey matter
- Increases brain volume in areas related to positive emotions & self-control
- Increases cortical thickness in brain regions related to attention
But I can’t meditate because [insert excuse here]
“I can’t clear my mind.” Nothing to worry about here, this is normal. As you sit and breath, you’ll experience tons of thoughts, feelings and emotions. This is nothing more than your wound-up mind slowly unwinding. Instead, notice how you feel afterwards and throughout the rest of your day.
“I can’t sit still.” No problem, just sit comfortably and if you must fidget, then fidget.
“I hate sitting still.” Okay, then go for a walk without your earbuds or your phone. Give yourself time to just “be” without having to be constantly doing something.
“It’s against my religion.” Does your religion prohibits the practice of sitting still and breathing? Just wondering.
“I don’t have time.” If you’ve had the time to read this article all the way through, you have time to meditate. Think of all those minutes you waste every day on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook (not to mention NetFlix). Just start with five minutes, and work up from there. I personally like 12 to 15 minutes a day. You may also want to use a meditation timer phone app, like Insight Timer or Headspace, to gently bring you to the end of your meditation. Any time of day is fine, although I find it helpful to practice during a time that I’m not going to fall asleep.
Make the time to meditate for just 5 minutes a day for the next 7 days, and see how much your productivity increases, how much more positive you feel, and more. Your brain and body will thank you!
Laurie Kelly, CPT, CES, is a Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist accredited by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). She works with clients one-on-one at their locations to help them live healthy and active lives, and achieve their unique fitness goals. Contact her here or follow her blog at www.dragonfly-fitness.com.
Davidson, Richard J. PhD; Kabat-Zinn, Jon PhD; Schumacher, Jessica MS et al. Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine: July 2003, Volume 65, Issue 4.
Zeidan, Fadel, Martucci, Katherine T, Kraft, Robert A. et al. Brain Mechanisms Supporting the Modulation of Pain by Mindfulness Meditation. Journal of Neuroscience, 6 April 2011.
Shapiro, S. L., Astin, J. A., Bishop, S. R., & Cordova, M. (2005). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Health Care Professionals: Results From a Randomized Trial. International Journal of Stress Management, 12(2), 164-176.
Luders, Eileen, Tonga, Arthur W, Lepore, Natasha et al. The Underlying Anatomical Correlates of Long-Term Meditation: Larger Hippocampal and Frontal Volumes of Gray Matter. NeuroImage, Volume 45, Issue 3, 15 April 2009.