It is the one thing that can help you reduce stress and anxiety in the moment, without the need to take medication or do exercise.
Yet despite this, meditation is still not fully understood as to the benefits of reducing stress, anxiety and depression, despite science proving that meditation helps the brain to reduce Cortisol, which is the stress hormone
So why is that we still don't meditate when we know we should?
1. Time– The main reason is that we simply don't have the time to meditate. We lead such busy schedules, that time really is the essence. We have work commitments, family commitments, and don't forget, we have our social life. For some people, medication and counseling is the best way to resolve any stress and depression issues. We would rather take pills, than take the healthy option and help still the mind
2. We don't know how to– And this is yet another main reason why we don't meditate. Simply put, we have per-concieved notions in what meditation looks like. I remember talking a bout is at work once, and I got looks and jokes about doing a certain famous yoga pose. But that is a posture, not the actual meditative act itself. Meditation is about the mind, or the ego, not about doing a certain difficult position.
Don't get me wrong, if you can do a position, that's great (and thank goodness we have yoga to teach us that) but if it is a choice between fighting to stay in position for a beginner, or just doing anything that makes you comfortable, I choose the latter any day of the week!
3. There is a fear factor– Strange but true, some people are actually turned off by the idea. Maybe it is the time element, or that doing a certain yoga pose, but mention the word meditation to some people, and the idea fills their mind with dread
Which is ironic, when you consider what meditation actually is. It is ultimately the act of connecting yourself to your source (I won't mention the word god or soul, as some people reading this will emphatically deny that god or soul has nothing to do with meditation, but as I always say, ‘each to their own')
And why do we need to re-establish the connection to source? So we remember who we really are. We are not the, ‘identification with a thought' or what some people call, ‘the ego'. We are the pure consciousness behind, ‘the ego'. The realm of the all that is, omnipotent, omnipresence and omniscience. Now that's a mouthful;-)
4. How long should it be?– Some people are not sure how long they should meditate. This is understandable, as there is no concrete fact that says that to be at optimum meditation standard (if there is any such a label) one has to meditate for 2 hours flat in the morning, and 2 hours late.
For me, I've known myself to have a quick 5 minute dose in the morning (when I'm in bed) and do 5 minutes in the evening (also in bed) before going to sleep. Or you can do 1 hour at the beginning of the day, and 1 hour at the end of the day.
You see, there is no set standard for how long you need to meditate All you need is to still the mind, and do that for at least a couple of minutes if you are busy, or if you have time on your hands, an hour before and an hour later. It's completely your call, and you are in control.
Of course, it does go without saying, that the more you do, the more you will benefit. With more and more practice, you get better, have more peace, and get better at concentrating at doing things.
And don't forget, you can always set the stopwatch, so that if you are wanting to do just 10 minutes in the morning, your buzzer will go off giving you the cue that your meditation session is over. Again, it's up to you!
5. Boredom– Meditation, if you don't know what you are doing, is not the most riveting and mind stimulating exercise in the world, isn't it.
I mean, let's get real here! The job of meditation is to essentially reduce (and in some cases, switch off) your conscious thoughts.
This, of course, goes against everything we have been taught as a kid as well as what society dictates. We are bombarded with hundreds of data from all sources, advertisements, opinions and imagery. In the 21st century, we have been subconsciously trained that it is not ok to, ‘still' the mind. If anything, we need to have an opinion, and a big one!
But the funny thing is, once you know what to do, (or in some cases, ‘be') meditation is a brilliant way to reduce the internal chatter, regain focus, and on top of all that, be at peace and love. We will talk about the easiest (in my opinion) ways to meditate, but for know, just know this. I would rather feel a deep peace than watch a melodramatic soap, any day of the week!
6. Unable to switch the ego off– This is another famous reason why some people won't meditate. Although similar to point 2, for some people, they can get into a pose, but have no idea on the actual act of slowing (and stopping) the mind. But don't worry, switching your attention (and I've just given half of the secret away there;-) is what this article is all about!
It's not the difficult, has multiple benefits, and after even a tiny bit of practice, you begin to notice an obvious mental difference. And once you know the knack of switching your attention, you can begin to meditate virtually anywhere The choices are practically unlimited!
So, if you can find a way to make time for just 15 minutes a day to still the mind, you will be automatically ahead of most people, who still firmly believe that materialism and happiness is outside of yourself, rather that within.
But what exactly are the benefits apart from the obvious relaxational mental state, thereby reducing stress and anxiety in the moment, of practicing meditation?
Before we describe the benefits, as we are on the topic of stress and anxiety reductions, lets look a the very thing we are trying to control, and that is the brain.
Your brain is made up of 4 parts: The Lateral Prefontal Cortex, The Medial Prefrontal Cortex, The Amygdala and The Insula.
Let's look at each one…
- The Lateral Prefrontal Cortex: The logical you!
It's the part of you that views things in a more rational, balanced and ultimately logical way. It involves process that are to do with over-riding the automatic behaviors/habits, modulating your emotional responses which could take place from the, ‘fear' aspect of the brain (which we will talk about in moment) and reduces your ability to take things personal. Essentially, this aspect of your brain, ‘assesses' and analyzes stuff.
- The Medial Prefrontal Cortex: The, ‘Ego' you!
This is the part that individuates things in your favor, as in, see's the you (or the, ‘I' if you will) in the experiences. This part of the brain is involved with things like day-dreaming, being self-reflective, feeling empathy with other people or the public, and engaging in social conventions or situations.
This part also has two further sections: The first is The Ventromedial Medial Prefrontal Cortex, including the processing of things that are similar to you, including other people, and is the part that can take things too personally, and can, as a result, cause negativity, such as anxiety, depression, stuff that causes you to worry, etc.
The second is The Dorsomedial Prefrontal Cortex, which is involved in the stuff that is dissimilar to you, including (more importantly) showing empathy towards people that are not like us!
- The Amygdala: The, ‘Fearful' you!
This is basically the part of the brain that creates the alarm and is responsible for the good old fashioned fight-or-flight response, and other initial emotional responses.
- The Insula: The, ‘I Have Bodily Sensations' you!
Ok, not a great title, I know, but it does sum up pretty much what this aspect of your brain is all about. Essentially the part of your brain involved with bodily sensations, such as your gut feelings, and your experiences.
When you meditate, the connection between the Dorsomedial Prefrontal Cortex (the processing of stuff that is not familiar to you, including showing empathy towards other people) and the Insula aspect of your brain (The Sensations part of you, including your gut feelings) is increased, so you feel more compassion and empathy/understanding towards the situation at hand, as well as the people you meet.
This allows us to tolerate and forgive more or the situations that would otherwise cause us anxiety and stress, and allows us to self-heal.
You also break down the strong connections between the The Medial Prefrontal Cortex (and more importantly, the Ventromedial Medial Prefrontal Cortex which can take things too personally).
This helps reduce your anxiety and your stress levels, and as a results, gives you greater clarity of mind, thanks to the default increased connection of your Lateral Prefrontal Cortex, or the logical you, as well as increasing the connections with your Insula and your Amygdala (but because of the breakdown of your Ventromedial Medial Prefrontal Cortex, you have a more logical, rational approach towards a, ‘fearful' situation, so your, ‘fight-or-flight' automatic response is reduced greatly).
So, know we know why meditation is not only helpful to the brain, but also crucial to its processing ability.
But what are the other aspects towards meditation, as well as the obvious reduction of short term and long term stress and anxiety?
- It can make you get better grades, due to an increase in cognitive functioning, including better attentions skills, reduction of exam anxiety and a reduction of ADHD
- It helps protect the brain and reduce mental illness, by helping to increase Myelin (protective tissue) and axonal density (signaling connections).
- Helps reduce loneliness, especially between the elderly.
- Increases the enjoyment of music, due to increased concentration.
- Helps reduce the catching of the cold, by reducing the risk of catching respiratory infections and allows the reduction of the length of time and severity of experiencing the symptoms .
- Helps increase the brain matter density, especially for meditators who meditate for long periods of time.
- Mindfulness meditating reduces the stress hormone cortisol, which leads us to…
- Having a better night sleep.
So how do you practice (and get good at) mindfulness meditation?
Below are techniques I sometimes use. They do look simple, but trust me…they work!
This can be done, sitting down or standing up, and will literally take about 10 seconds to do (once you get good at it) and is amazingly effective in allowing a peaceful state of mind to return to you.
All you do is this.
Next time you get stressed, think of the thoughts analytically.
Now focus on the gaps between the words in your thoughts.
Focus on the gaps.
If another thought comes, let it come, and focus on any gap in that thought instead!
After a few moments, you will feel, ‘present'.
Now, you could be asking, what does feeling, ‘present', feel like?
The best way I can describe it (and I'm sure people will describe different sensations) is that a wonderful calm feeling of relaxing, healing peace takes over!
Your negativity goes, and you are, (temporarily at least) in a state of peace and sometimes bliss (again, I've done this exercise myself, so I know it works!).
You are able to have a clear head, and you can refocus much more easily on the task at hand.
What if you find it difficult to analyze your own thoughts?
We'll listen to the ambient noise instead!
Just listen to the background noise, whether it is in the office, or outside.
Focus (again, for a short while) on the ambient noise, and you will feel a deep peace flood into your stomach area (what you are actually doing, is opening up your solar plexus vortex, commonly known as a, ‘chakra).
Again, this technique will force you into the, ‘now', and will force you to have a relaxing, healing peace envelop your body and mind, reducing stress in an (almost) instant!
This is another great exercise, which not only helps you be in the present moment, but also increases your levels of observation.
Look out in front of you, and gaze (so you don't stare too hard and hurt your eyes, or give yourself a headache).
Try, without directly looking at it, to observe the space above the stare, and then the space below the stare.
Then, after a few minutes, try to observe the space to the left of the stare, and then to the right.
After a few moments, you should feel yourself being, ‘present' and you will have entered the, ‘now'.
This particular technique is great when you are walking, and are too busy to listen to the ambient noise to notice being in the, ‘now'.
You will also feel like you are more mentally clear and sharp!
This is a technique which you can do while sitting down or laying down.
It's particularly useful if you are talking with someone, or you are actively engaging your mind to a slightly monotonous task.
What we are going to do here, is to notice the bodily sensations.
Start of by noticing your bones, and your muscles.
Try and feel them inside of your body.
Then try and feel your organs, and finally, your breathing.
Feel the breath of air going in and out of your lungs.
After a few moments, you should start to feel a peace, and will begin to get more, ‘present'.
I've been able to feel ecstasy doing this, while listening to a client, and having a small cold.
I've literally, ‘felt' my inner body into bliss (although it didn't last for long, to be honest).
This will help you if you have to listen to something fairly important, but you know doesn't require complete mental concentration.
Another great way of being present, is by using a simple breathing technique.
All you have to do, is to simply lay down and watch your breaths.
Don't try and control your breathing, just sit down (or lay down) and observe your breathing.
Just observe how you breath in, and how you breath out, and feel the breath going into your lungs.
After a few moments of observing your breathing and feeling it go into your body, you will begin to feel very present and your ego chatter will be vastly reduced.
Similar to the above exercises, by simply focusing on your breathing, you are essentially moving your attention from your mind to a physical sensation on your body.
It is the attention being directed away from your thoughts, to your body which is causing you to be in the, ‘now'.
Put simply, it is your attention that we are trying to control.
Your attention is quicker than your thought process (that is why you can think of new things very quickly).
Control your attention, and you control your thinking.
Control your thinking, and you control your stress levels, and your life!
Why does this work?
When you are in the, ‘now', or the present moment, you temporarily shut off the main part of your, ‘ego' (the one responsible for the problem) and you connect to the highest part of your consciousness.
The part that is full of creativity, exists outside the space-time continuum and the part that is unconditionally loving and healing.
This allows the negativity and the stress to dissolve away (quite literally) and allows you to re-gain clarity of mind!
So, is meditation the ultimate cure for stress? It's really hard to prove otherwise, isn't it!
But what do you think? Let me know in the box below