Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the health benefits of meditation. You probably even agree that meditation would benefit you. So why aren’t you doing it yet?
Chances are, you have one of two challenges:
1. You don’t understand it. Perhaps you’ve tried to sit quietly and remove all thoughts from your mind (That is really hard to do!) Meditation is actually more about focusing on a specific, intentional thing, rather than trying to focus on nothing. Read on to learn how simple and stress-free mediation can be.
2. You don’t have time. I get it, most busy women don’t have the luxury of a solid block of quiet time. We are always putting out fires, kissing bruises, helping with homework, fixing dinner, being a teacher, counselor, chauffeur, maid and nurse. In this article, I will show you how you can reap the benefits of meditative practice in a matter of minutes – two minutes, to be exact!
I’ve known about meditation for a long time, but never really embraced it. It always seemed so vague and hard to understand, and even (dare I admit) a waste of time. More recently, I’ve actually found how simple (not easy, but simple) meditation can be and what huge benefit it can have for my productivity, health, and day to day happiness.
I started small and I suggest, if you are new to meditation, you do so as well. I have two reasons for this. One is that if I invest two minutes a day into something, and for some reason it does not benefit me, I do not really feel like I wasted a great deal of time. So, no worries about that. Second, meditation is simple, but not at all easy. The last thing that we want to do is add more stress into your life! In our hectic lives, with televisions blaring, dogs barking, children screaming, cell phones ringing, cars honking, text alerts beeping, Facebook messages, appointments, meetings, work, and other commitments, it is really hard to concentrate on anything (or nothing) for very long. Two minutes is a great start. I did fine with it, and you will too.
Even better, this just may become the best two minutes of your day. Well, at least in terms of the benefits that you will reap.
It is very interesting and motivating to understand how a simple habit like meditation can effect your brain.
NOTE: If you are really pressed for time and could care less about all the geeky science about what meditation can do for you, just skip down to the last section of this post for instructions on HOW to meditate in 2 minutes. You can always come back and find out WHY you need to do it. However, if you need some motivation to get you started, read on…
What Happens in Your Brain When You Meditate
Using modern technology, like MRI scans, scientists have developed a more thorough understanding of what’s taking place in our brains when we meditate. The overall difference is that our brains stop processing information as actively as they normally would. This is to say that we start to show a decrease in beta waves, which are the waves that indicate when our brains are processing information and in its normal waking state of consciousness.
To break it down even further, here is what happens to each part of the brain when you meditate:
This is the most highly evolved part of the brain, responsible for reasoning, planning, emotions and self-conscious awareness. During meditation, the frontal cortex tends to go offline.
This part of the brain processes sensory information about the surrounding world, orienting you in time and space. During meditation, activity in the parietal lobe slows down. Making time and space less important.
This organ focuses your attention by funneling some sensory data deeper into the brain and stopping other signals in their tracks. Meditation reduces the flow of incoming information to a trickle.
This structure receives incoming stimuli and puts the brain on alert, ready to respond. Meditating dials back the arousal signal.
How Meditation Affects You
Because meditation is a practice in focusing our attention and being aware of when it becomes scattered, this actually improves our focus when we’re not meditating, as well. It’s a lasting effect that comes from regular sessions of meditation.
This point is pretty technical, but it’s really interesting, so try and stay focused!! The more we meditate, the less anxiety we have. Good, right? This is because we’re actually loosening the connections of particular neural pathways. This sounds bad, but don’t worry, it’s not.
What happens without meditation is that there’s a section of our brain that’s sometimes called the Me Center, okay, you got me….it’s not actually called that, but I am going to call it that (it’s technically the medial prefrontal cortex). The “Me Center” is the part of the brain that processes information relating to ourselves and our experiences.
Normally, the neural pathways leading from the bodily sensation and fear centers of the brain to the Me Center are really strong. When you experience something scary or upsetting, it triggers a strong reaction in your Me Center, making you feel scared and under attack.
When we meditate, we weaken this neural connection. This means that we don’t react as strongly to sensations that might have once lit up our Me Centers. As we weaken this connection, we simultaneously strengthen the connection between what’s known as our Assessment Center (the part of our brains known for reasoning) and our bodily sensations and fear centers. So when we experience scary or upsetting sensations, we can more easily look at them rationally. Here’s a good example:
When you experience pain, rather than becoming anxious and assuming it means something is wrong with you, you can watch the pain rise and fall, almost like an outside observer, without becoming emotionally invested and entangled in a story about what it might mean.
My husband, Jeff, is a writer, so I was particularly interested in sharing this information with him. What is even more interesting is that I believe that he actually practices the type of meditation found to improve creativity – without even knowing it.
Researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands studied both focused-attention and open-monitoring mediation to see if there was any improvement in creativity afterwards.
Focused-attention or mindful meditation, is where you focus on one specific thing, which could be your breathing, a sensation in your body or a particular object outside of you. The point of this type of meditation is to focus strongly on one point and continually bring your attention back to that focal point when it wanders.
Open-monitoring meditation is where you pay attention to all of the things happening around you, and you simply notice everything without reacting. This is the one that I think Jeff does without trying.
The study found that people who practiced focused-attention meditation performed better on a task that asked them to come up with new ideas.
Research on meditation has shown that empathy and compassion are higher in those who practice meditation regularly. In one study the participants were shown images of other people that were either good, bad or neutral and their reactions were measured. After meditating, the participants were able to focus their attention and reduce their emotional reactions to these images, even when they weren’t in a meditative state. They also experienced more compassion for others when shown disturbing images.
Another study found that people who meditated regularly had stronger activation levels in their temporal parietal junctures (a part of the brain tied to empathy) when they heard the sounds of people suffering, compared to those who didn’t meditate and had weaker activation levels.
One of the things meditation has been linked to is improving rapid memory recall. It has been found that people who practiced mindful meditation were able to adjust the brain wave that screens out distractions and increase their productivity more quickly than those that did not meditate. This ability to ignore distractions could explain their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts. This can be incredibly life changing for those with “shiny object syndrome”, such as myself. .
Got TWO MINUTES?? Get Started Today
Yes, you can start today! Just set aside two minutes and sit in a quiet space. I’m sure you can find one, even if you have to sneak out to your car, slip into an empty bedroom, or even the bathroom.
Here is what you do.
Close your eyes and focus on your breath.
Slowly inhale, then slowly exhale. Simply count each inhale and exhale. Inhale = 1, Exhale =2, Inhale = 3, Exhale = 4… and so on, until you get to 10, then start over.
Repeat about 10 times. That is it. Just concentrate on your breathing.
Go slow, taking time to fill your lungs with fresh, clean, energizing air as you count 1, then exhale out all the air slowly and completely as you count 2, keep going, focusing on your breath. Do this each day until next week.
Let me know how it goes!!