While technology has been introduced into our world as a means of assistance and improvement to the quality of our life, it also has become a means to distract us from being present, from finding balance and from catching our breath. In Time magazine last week, the cover story “The Art of Being Mindful” took aim at the ever more pressing need of being mindful in a digital world that is incessantly grappling for our attention.
And with the mention of mindfulness, the need to master our mind, gain back control when it wanders, and allow it time to reboot on a regular basis, immediately becomes the task at hand in order to live a content and fulfilling life.
Meditation is by no means a new practice. In fact, written records date as far back as 1500 BC when Hindu traditions included meditation, but as more and more scientific research is shown to have direct effects on one’s health, even those who may have shied away from this simple, yet powerful practice are giving it a second thought.
Let me first share my experience. It’s pretty short and sweet. I tried in my early twenties and my thoughts had a heyday. And so, I stopped.
Meditation was frightening, or so I convinced myself, as it was actually my thoughts I was afraid of. Maybe this particular experience is unique to me, but I doubt it. As someone who’s mind is constantly asking questions, analyzing, planning and strategizing, which can be very useful for in my creative ventures, it can also be a tool of destruction if it travels down the wrong path.
And that brings me back to my return to meditation in my current daily health and fitness regimen. The gift of meditation is that it gives you back your mind. What do I mean? I mean, your mind becomes a muscle that you can use to benefit you, rather than letting it run wickedly wild and pull you down with worries and fret.
The New York Times recently shared that Ellen DeGeneres begins each day with 20 minutes of meditation. And while simply meditating won’t instill in you the gift of success, comedic timing and lovability, one of the things her practice reveals to me is that regardless of one’s busy schedule, meditation is a simple way of finding balance, finding calm and focusing on priorities. Here are a few other benefits of meditation.
1. A Better Brain
A study in 2004 revealed that Buddhist monks who logged a minimum of 10,000 hours of meditation had brains with more functional connectivity than novice meditators. Now, you and I both know we don’t have this kind of time, but what it demonstrates is that regular meditation does have the health benefit of improved memory and decreased mind-wandering.
2. Become More Present
When our devices grapple for our attention with alerts, pings and tweets, the moment we direct our attention to our phone, tablet or computer, we remove ourselves from the present. And when we remove ourselves from the present, we miss an opportunity to converse with a neighbor on our walk, notice the first birds of the season chirping away or the texture of the food we have chosen to enjoy. When we are present, we are better able to appreciate and strengthen the conversations we are in, the life we are living and the world around us. Meditation provides the practice to be present as it forces us to control our thoughts, focus on our breathing and let our minds relax.
3. Thwart Depression and Anxiety
Mind control, as stated before on the blog, is crucial to creating a life of contentment. When we lose control of our minds, we can drive ourselves batty with worry. But as we practice controlling our thoughts through meditation, we become the master, and the thoughts are weapon of success.
4. Reduce Stress
Scientists have proven that regular meditation can lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone that is secreted excessively and regularly can damage the vessels and weaken the heart) and decrease blood pressure.
5. Increase productivity
Researchers have found that multitasking, focusing on more than one thing at a time in an effort to be more efficiency actually has the opposite effect by lower one’s overall productivity. When we understand that doing more doesn’t necessarily guarantee a better more fulfilling life, we can give ourselves permission to do one thing at a time and do it well. And when we become comfortable with focusing on one thing at a time, being present and not distracted by the past or worrying about the future, we are able to tend to our present task with increased results of grand quality.
6. Emotional Balance
Similarly tied to #3, when we don’t have control of our mind, our emotions control our moods, and we are unable to navigate successfully and consistently through life. But when we realize that our emotions are ours to control and often in response to outside forces that we have no control over, we can take a deep breath, become present and recognize the emotion for what it is. This simple practice becomes easier with regular meditation. Whenever I find myself flustered or emotionally agitated, I do my best to find time in my office or classroom, shut the door and sit down. I place my feet flat on the floor, sit up straight, rolling my shoulder up and back and few times, close my eyes, and breath slowly (in 2 – 3 -4, out 2 – 3 – 4). Often the simple act of breathing, really breathing – using your diaphragm – is not done, but instead shallow, quick breaths are taken. Make sure that when you breathe in, your belly area becomes full and when you breathe out, your belly button gets sucked into your spine.
How to Meditate
So now that we know the benefits, let’s talk about how to welcome it into your life. First, don’t make it too difficult. It really is simple, and you can craft it uniquely to fit your needs and comforts. I will share a few of the things that work for me, but again, just as examples. Feel free to incorporate your own ideas as you see fit.
1. Find 2-20 minutes of quiet time without distraction. As you begin, simply choose to sit still and quiet your mind for 2 minutes. As you become more comfortable and able, increase the time.
2. Find a quiet, soothing spot. I prefer to place my yoga mat on the floor in a room with natural light. Even though my eyes will be closed I want Mother Nature to be the first thing my eyes see when they do open. Turn off all extra noise and preferably reduce or eliminate distractions.
3. Add personal components that will help aid you in your practice. Wear comfortable clothing, and if you don’t want absolute silence, play tranquil music without lyrics as you don’t want the words to grab your mind’s attention. I prefer the sounds of water – ocean waves, raindrops, etc. It’s simple, yet similar to white noise, so I don’t focus on it. I also make sure to have a bottle of water to drink before and after.
4. Choose a regular time of day that works well with your schedule. Perhaps you wish to begin your day with a quiet moment to set the tone. Or maybe you’d prefer quiet at the end of busy work days to calm down your mind before bed.
5. Establish a quiet mind. The key is to not beat yourself up as thoughts begin to swirl. They will. When your mind quiets itself, the natural behavior, because it has been conditioned for years, is for your thoughts to find their momentum. The good news is that by noticing that you have active thoughts is evidence that you are paying attention to your mind and with time, you will be able to slow these thoughts down and eventually cease them when you wish. The best way I’ve discovered to quiet my mind is to count my breath. I give my yoga instructor Bridgette all of the credit for teaching me a simple, yet very powerful trick. Mix up your counts, breathe in for four and out for two. Breathe in for 4 and out for four. Strengthen your breath and breathe in for 8 and out for 4. You get the idea. When you focus on breathing, your mind isn’t focusing on your thoughts.
I am by no means a master at meditation, merely an amateur just getting my sea legs, but I do know that when I meditate, I begin to notice a calmness within me that I wish to bring more of into my life.
A simple practice that can offer a wealth of goodness into your life. Have a wonderful Wednesday. Namaste.
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