It’s easy to think mindfulness isn’t important, or that we don’t have time to meditate.
We have our constant day-to-day tasks to complete, and the little free time we do have, we want to use how we want.
But, counterintuitively, the more we feel we don’t have time to meditate, the more we need it.
This post will outline the benefits of meditation, and then describe how you can get started meditating today. (Note: the article gets a little scientific, so feel free to skip right to the meditation walk-through if you aren’t interested in the research.)
“Meditation more than anything in my life was the biggest ingredient of whatever success I’ve had.” –Ray Dalio, Billionaire, Founder of world’s largest hedge fund firm, Bridgewater Associates
Your Brain on Meditation
There are two parts of the brain affected by meditation that we will discuss: the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and the hippocampus.
The anterior cingulate cortex is a component of the brain’s limbic (nervous) system, and is responsible in part for the development of self-regulation. In addition to the critical function of self-regulation, the ACC is also involved in high-level functions like reward anticipation, decision-making, impulse control, and emotions.
Put simply, the ACC allows you to focus, avoid distractions, and avoid impulsivity. Because of the ACC you are able to work methodically, logically, and deliberately.
The hippocampus on the other hand, is responsible for emotional regulation, and response control, among other roles such as short and long-term memory.
Because of our hippocampus, we are able to remember events, regulate our emotions, and respond to stimulus appropriately.
Photo: Henry Gray –
Research has found evidence that stress changes the fundamental structure of our hippocampus, which can lead to psychotic disorders. Not good.
Since we are all exposed to stress on a daily basis, the question is, are we taking care of ourselves?
A 2014 study on meditation as a therapeutic intervention states,
“A growing body of research also suggests that meditation promotes beneficial changes in CNS [Central Nervous System] dopaminergic and other neurochemical systems, and increases blood flow, oxygen delivery, and glucose utilization in specific regions of the brain associated with mood elevation, memory, and attentional processing, including the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and anterior cingulate gyrus.”
What this research ultimately suggests, is that there are many benefits to meditation, related to the brain and spinal cord’s function.
What I find most interesting, however, is the research on meditation’s effect on mitigating age-related mental deterioration.
Long-term meditation studies have been associated with a thicker cortex, increased grey matter, and attentional performance. This is significant because once we reach a certain age, our brain starts to lose white and grey brain matter. This is known as cortical thinning.
Meditation and mindfulness practices effectively offset age-related cortical thinning, and cognitive degeneration.
Think about it another way: each year after we stop growing, we lose more muscle mass, and we store more body fat. It’s natural aging.
Which is why we can use exercise to reduce our body fat and increase our muscle mass.
In the same respect, we can use meditation to increase our white and grey brain matter.
What is great about meditation, is that it does not take very much time.
In as little as 10 minutes, you can reap all the benefits from mindfulness practices.
With the research out of the way, let’s dive into how to meditate.
How to Meditate
I was wrong.
It turns out, we don’t need to give away all our belongings, shave our head, swear an oath of silence and reside in exile for years to meditate. Oops.
Instead, there are many simple ways we can meditate anywhere. Here is one:
(Note: It can be difficult to meditate while reading, so I would suggesting reading all the steps before meditating, or heading over to headspace for guided audio. Sign-up is quick and free. Enjoy!)
- Relax your eyes into a soft gaze. Focus your attention on your surroundings. Gently close your eyes when you feel like it.
- Notice your breathing, focusing on your lungs expanding. Then, feel the weight of your body on your chair.
- Notice any thoughts that come into your mind. Without chasing those thoughts, just gently return your focus to your breath.
- Count your breaths, the breath in will be one, and the breath out will be two. Then three, and so on. Do this for a while.
- Now, let your mind do as it chooses, without judgement.
- Gently return your focus to your surroundings. Then bring your attention back to your body. When you’re ready, slowly open your eyes.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to discuss below. Thanks for reading! 🙂