Has your head been spinning lately? Unable to shut off your thoughts and perhaps spiraling into obsessive worrying? Meditation is one tool that can help you to regain your sense of calm.
Meditation is a practice that helps calm the mind and allows us to be awake and aware, yet detached from our incessant thoughts. Many meditation techniques exist and studies have shown a multitude of health benefits with a regular meditation practice—from enhancing brain structure and function to turning on genes for healing and self-regulation while turning down genes involved in inappropriate inflammatory processes that can cause health problems.
It’s Good for Your Brain
Studies have demonstrated that meditation helps to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, improve attention and concentration, and benefit overall psychological well-being. Through imaging studies, long-term meditators have been found to have better preservation of brain regions associated with working memory and executive decision making. And research has shown that even after just eight weeks of a thirty-minute daily practice, new meditators had brain changes including in areas associated with stress, memory, and empathy.
Other studies have shown improvements in memory and mind-wandering after a 2 week course and beneficial changes in mental health and improvements in gene expression associated with stress and immune responses after just five days of participation in a meditation retreat.
Although the length of time of practice does seem to make a difference in effect size, it is encouraging that these changes can even be seen in people who have only been practicing for a short time. It’s an exciting time in meditation research when modern scientific tools are being used to validate the many benefits of these ancient practices.
Shift From Reactive to Responsive
Beyond these great health benefits, a regular meditation practice allows you to be more responsive and less reactive. It gives you the space to calm down and get out of fight-or-flight mode where you may make a rash decision or react on the spot without consciously thinking about the consequences of your actions.
In life-or-death situations these reactions can save us, but too often we go into these reactive responses when triggered by something that is not really dangerous, like when someone zips into the parking spot you have been patiently waiting for, or when your child drops an entire gallon of milk on the floor just as you are about to leave for work, or when you are late for an appointment and seem to be hitting every single red light possible.
Regular Practice is the Key
By regularly practicing being in a calm state of mind, it is easier to shift out of an instant reaction mode and instead pause and move forward with a conscious response. This is not to say that you won’t ever get upset—we all experience joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain—but the way that you express your discomfort will begin to shift away from a fly-off-the-handle type of reaction. On occasion, you may have reactive moments, but as you witness the consequences and are aware of your role in the situation, you will recover more quickly than before.
When we are less reactive, we make decisions and choices from a place of consciousness. This can open us up to consider whether the actions we are taking are life-enhancing and leading to more health and wellness or not.
Ready to get started? Check out this meditation video: So Hum Guided Meditation
This blog post includes tips and information from my book Resilient Health: How to Thrive in Our Toxic World.