Your Body and Brain on Meditation
If you’re in the “not certain” group, the only way to know for sure is to try a few meditation sessions or develop some mindfulness practices and see for yourself (see the link to guided meditations at the end of the post “Do You Meditate?”). Trying to describe meditation is like trying to describe crème brûlée (I’m something of a fanatic about this dessert) to someone who has never tasted it: I can list the ingredients, tell you how it was prepared, and compare the taste to another food, but you can’t really know what it is like until you try it for yourself.
If you are in the “unconvinced” group, or maybe you’re convinced but you’re having difficulty making meditation part of your regular routine, looking at the science behind meditation may help. You have likely heard about (and maybe experienced) the reduction in stress and anxiety that comes with meditation, but did you also know that a regular practice can have physical impacts on your body? For example, researchers are finding that meditation can:
- Reduce your blood pressure,
- Change the structure of your brain, increasing the connections (and size) of the areas responsible for decision making, attention, and memory,
- Affect how your genes are expressed,
- Decrease the occurrences of stress-related illness, and
- Slow down the aging process.
- Schedule it. All healthy behaviors need to be scheduled until they become a habit. Ideally you should schedule it at the same time every day, and connect it to something you already do every day (like after you brush your teeth).
- Work up to it. Thirty or forty minutes of meditation will be hard if you’re just starting out. Start with just 5-10 minute sessions, and add 5 minutes a week.
- Start with guided meditations. A guided meditation, especially one geared for beginners, will give you the assurance that you’re “doing it right”. It will take a few sessions to get the hang of it, so be patient with yourself.
- Make peace with restlessness. It’s completely normal for everyone, even experienced meditators, to feel restless while they are trying to sit still. One way to help with this is to do some gentle stretching beforehand (yoga is actually a physical preparation for meditation). When you do start feeling restless (because it will happen sooner or later!), don’t react — see if you can just notice what restlessness feels like in your body. Some people have found that this is particularly challenging for them, so do your best to keep working with it, and keep in mind that restlessness has never killed anyone, so you’ll be fine!
Activities for Meditation, Week 2
- Understand how meditation can affect your health and well-being,
- Be more aware of how your thoughts affect your emotions and actions,
- Experience how focusing on one concept like gratefulness can affect you.
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character.
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love,
Born out of compassion for all human beings.
As the shadow follows the body,
As we think, so we become.” – Saying of the Buddha
- “Start by silently stating to yourself specific things in your life you’re grateful for, particularly items you’d normally take for granted. Go slowly so you really feel the gratefulness for each item.”
- “After about thirty seconds, stop thinking and focus on the physical sensation of gratefulness. You’ll feel it coming directly from your heart.”
- “As this energy emanates from your heart, your chest will soften and open. In this state you will feel an overwhelming presence approach you, filled with the power of infinite giving.”