When I first started meditating, I was skeptical. Will this work? Will I be able to focus? Will I even be able to sit still for five minutes?
I’d approached it with doubt before I’d even started. But so many people talked about the advantages of meditation, and I was curious to try it.
If you’ve never tried meditation before, it can be difficult at first, especially if you’re a restless spirit. The great part about meditation, though, is that you can practice it throughout your day. When you learn how to breathe, pause and just be in the moment, you’re able to more easily take that practice with you wherever you go—whether you’re at home doing the dishes or travelling through a foreign country.
As a newbie, it helps to use guided meditations, just so you can get the idea of how it works. Headspace is a great app for guided meditations, and the website has additional information on how meditation benefits you.
However, I used the Calm app starting out. It allows you to choose your calming background noise: softly falling rain, a summer field with birds chirping or whatever else suits your mood. Sometimes it helps to have this background noise as you meditate.
But sometimes it helps to quiet everything around you. I think we often keep our feelings buried deep, and meditation helps bring those feelings to the surface.
It’s in this time and space that you can uncover those feelings, accept them without judgment and try to move past them. If meditation has taught me anything, it’s taught me that it’s OK for the mind to wander, but that I always have the choice to bounce off those thoughts and return to the present moment.
Physical changes in the brain
What’s interesting about meditation is that practicing it over a fairly lengthy period of time changes your brain. Researchers did a study on long-term meditators who’d been meditating for at least five years or more, and found that they had more grey matter in the hippocampus (a part of the brain responsible for memory, emotions and motivation).
According to the study, the larger volume of grey matter observed in the hippocampus could account for the meditators’ ability to foster positive emotions, preserve their emotional stability and engage in mindful behaviour. As well, the hippocampus is key to attention and focus.
I like to think that meditation retrains your brain, allowing you to take a more mindful and positive approach towards life. Even though I’m not a long-term meditator, I feel like I’ve already reaped the benefits.
Getting out of your mind
Just the other day, I took a walk to my local coffee shop, intent on getting some work done. As I was walking, I kept thinking about worries and frustrations. I was replaying events that had happened in the past in my head, over and over again. But then I stopped myself and took stock of the day around me.
It was a beautiful spring day, and here I was, living in the past!
It was as if I crossed a threshold then, moving away from the past and into the present. I moved my attention to the present day, and by choosing to focus on the now, it totally changed my perception. I was able to focus on possibilities instead of limitations.
I give credit to meditation for this.
Do it anywhere, anytime
The great part about meditation is that you can practice it anywhere, anytime you have a quiet moment. You can experience meditative moments on a train, while stopped in traffic or when walking. All it takes is the willingness to pause and focus on your breathing.
Even cooking can be a meditative task, if you focus on the appearance, smell and texture of the ingredients and on each movement. This also applies to being aware of your food and appreciating every bite; or even, when you’re with friends, immersing yourself in the moment and enjoying the time.
Besides increasing the volume of grey matter in your brain, meditation also has many other physical benefits. According to this Reader’s Digest article, meditation relieves pain, lowers blood pressure, improves your cognition, enhances genes responsible for your metabolism and insulin secretion, and keeps you happier.
For me, though, the most significant benefit has been honing my ability to redirect my attention back to the present, so I can more fully live in the moment.
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