Oprah Winfrey has integrated meditation practices into her business, engaging her staff with regular meditative practices, and she was pretty pleased with the results. “People who used to have migraines, don’t. People are sleeping better; people have better relationships. People interact with other people better. It’s been fantastic”.
If you’ve heard about the benefits of meditation but just don’t know where to start, well consider this. Between the 11thand 19thcentury Buddhist monks in northern Japan, practised a type of meditation called Sokushinbutsu in which they would mummify themselves alive by slowly weaning themselves off of food and water before eventually starving to death.
Don’t do that.
I’m sure if they had the headspace app back, then they may have opted out of that one. But there are tons of different avenues you can go down to start practising meditation, Apps, guided online tutorials, lessons form practitioners.
But which type should you try?
The most common type of meditation right now is called mindfulness. Mindfulness involves maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.
The purpose of mindfulness is to focus our attention on the present instead of being too occupied by worries about the future or anxieties from the past.
There are multiple other styles of meditation available also. Many Hollywood celebrities have started to incorporate transcendental meditation into their busy schedules, from Emily Blunt through to Clint Eastwood.
Meditation is praised for its significant impact on improving mood but some highlight that they feel it benefits their creativity as well. TM involves silently repeating a specific mantra inside your mind and focusing on it.
Frustratingly, a lot of us try but give up too quickly because we can’t seem to focus. What is going on in our brains that means we focus straight away? And what do we have to do to get better?
Why is getting started so hard?
Let's say you’re trying to focus on your breath, and for a second or two, you’re doing fine, then swoosh; your mind wanders off, and you start thinking about llamas.
This is natural; it happens to everyone, not just you. All you need to keep doing to start with is consciously make an effort to keep bringing the attention back to your breath whenever your mind wanders. What this is doing is telling your subconscious that you want to focus on your breath (not llamas). By continued repetition, you will naturally be able to keep your attention on your breath longer and longer. You are, in effect, training your subconscious mind first.
This is when we can start to carry out sustained attention and begin to notice some of the benefits of meditation, everyone’s always spewing.
Once you’re doing it what’s happening in our brains?
When we begin to succeed with our meditation, we can cause transformations within the brain because our brains are plastic, meaning they are capable of changing.
- Increased volume of grey matter
In terms of physical changes in the brain, studies have been able to identify where the most profound changes occur. The significant modifications noted are increased grey matter in the hippocampus known to be important for learning and memory as well as self-awareness.
- Greater cortical folding
Meditators brains show higher amounts of cortical folding AKA Gyrification. This helps our minds become better at processing information, making decisions and forming memories.
- Decreased volume of neuronal activity in parts of the brain related to stress
Anxiety can lead to depression when we are constantly triggering our fight or flight response. This occurs because we are continually activating part of the brain known as the amygdala and making the neural connections in this area stronger and more extensive. Meditators decrease the amount of links in this area, causing it to be less active. However, they also increase connections between the amygdala and the Prefrontal cortex, which can help ‘turn off’ the amygdala.
Your left prefrontal cortex
During meditation, studies have shown that the type of brain waves we produce can change. During the day when we are doing most of our thinking, we are creating beta waves. When we begin to meditate, we start to generate alpha waves, which have been shown to increase creativity and help reduce symptoms of depression. The most abundant brain wave during meditation, however, is the Theta wave, which is associated with deep relaxation.
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