My goal is to expose you to different forms of meditation and the great benefits they can have. Once you have been exposed I hope that you will try some of the methods I mentioned or even research further. Meditation is an ancient practice that has proven benefits for mental and physical health. For learning purposes, I have outlined two of the major categories of meditation.
Focused Attention: Focused attention meditation is when you are focused on a mantra or your breath. There are different methods as well, but for Back to Basics purposes we will focus on methods readily available. During focused attention meditation you can lay down or sit upright on the floor; as always, find out what works best for you and make gradual improvements. Start out with five minutes and see how that goes. Nasal breathing, as we learned last week, is an excellent place to start for meditation. Breathwork in itself can be considered meditation. Focus on your breath for five minutes and when your thoughts drift, revert back to your breath. Another method is to pick a mantra or word to focus on. Pick a word or a saying that brings joy to you. Positive mindsets can manifest themselves in your actions and create lasting effects, including immune boosts. There are many benefits of focused attention meditation and I find the biggest one to be the ability to focus. I find focused attention meditation to be stimulating, for this reason, I suggest to do it in the morning, or when you need a reset.
Open-monitoring meditation: Open-monitoring meditation is the exploration of your thoughts and feelings. This type of meditation can improve your emotional intelligence by allowing you to work through experiences and scenarios. Take a seat or lay down in a comfortable quiet place. Close your eyes and take 5-10 minutes to acknowledge your thoughts, but don’t judge them. This practice is great for creativity and kindness- both to yourself and others. You may notice your mind racing in a bad direction, acknowledge this and replace it with a breath or a positive thought.
That was the how, and here is the why.
5 benefits of Meditation
- Immune system boost: Meditation can help alleviate stress which can help relax your immune system responses. These immune responses, such as inflammation, in excess, can be detrimental to health. Chronic stress is a well-known culprit for wreaking havoc on our body and immune systems. By practicing meditation, we can reduce stress and help identify what is truly stressful. A little stress never hurt anyone, a lot of stress kills a lot of people. In studies using biomarkers, they found that over a period of time people who meditate have less inflammation. “Specifically, mindfulness mediation appears to be associated with reductions in proinflammatory processes, increases in cell-mediated defense parameters, and increases in enzyme activity that guards against cell aging”. In addition to improving your immune system, meditation can help optimize your sleep.
- Improves Sleep: Mindfulness meditation has been proven to help improve sleep quality. (Black, 2015) Findings from scholarly articles on the improvement of sleep from a meditation practice make practical sense. Mindfulness meditation has an amazing ability to reduce chronic stress. Have you ever been in your bed where your thoughts are racing a million miles per hour? If you said no then you’re lying. Mindfulness meditation can help you control those thoughts and will improve your focus towards the task at hand (sleep). I have found meditation to be stimulating at times. For this reason, I recommend doing at least 30 minutes before your intended sleep time. Through meditation, you will be able to part ways with negative thoughts and slow down your racing brain to better prepare yourself for sleep. Part of the reason meditation improves your sleep is that it can reduce anxiety and depression.
- Reduces anxiety and depression: There are hundreds of studies identifying the benefits of meditation on anxiety. One of the hardest things to do when anxiety is prevalent is to meditate. Being alone with your thoughts can be overwhelming, but the practice of meditation can be beneficial in taking control of your mind. Mindful meditation is inherently the practice of not judging your thoughts. By detaching yourself from your thoughts, acknowledging them but not judging them, we can better control our brains. “Twenty minutes of mindfulness meditation significantly reduced state anxiety in each session that meditation was practiced”. Similar to the reduction of anxiety, meditation can help people with depression detach themselves from their negative thoughts. “Becoming less identified with one’s emotions and cognitions results in these mental processes losing power. For example, negative thoughts may be less likely to lead to depression, and negative affect may be less likely to persist.” Meditation is powerful in the sense that it helps you take back control of your thoughts and emotions. When a negative thought enters your brain, replace it with a positive thought or a calming breath. This will help you negate the effects of negativity.
- Optimizes brain function: Neuroplasticity can be simplified to the brain’s ability to change and create new connections. This means throughout our life we possess the ability to make new memories and learn new skills. Think of meditation as a workout for your brain. Your brain is a muscle and arguably the most important one you have, so if we want to see “gains” in our brain we need to hit the “gym” (meditation). Practicing meditation can improve our ability to focus. In addition to improving our ability to focus, meditation may actually increase the size or density of certain areas of our brain. This takes us back to the ability to “workout” our brain and makes improvements in our mental fitness.
- Improves emotional intelligence: Meditation has many “soft skill” benefits. It can help you become more compassionate to other people and to yourself. Transcendental meditation is a type of focused attention meditation where you focus on a mantra or a sound, for example, “OM”. “The TM program was effective as a workplace wellness program to improve emotional intelligence and reduce perceived stress in employees.” Meditation is gaining traction with CEO’s, leaders, and hopefully sports coaches. This is due to its ability to improve emotional intelligence. It is well researched that emotional intelligence has a strong correlation to performance in various industries.
Resources, and links used
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940234/#R12 (Immune system)
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6207440/ (Emotional intellegince)