Many of us know that with our often hectic and stressful schedules, it is important for us to take time out of our day to relax. However, knowing and doing prove to be entirely different operations, and if we are able to find the time to unwind, we often don’t know how to make our relaxation time as beneficial and impactful as possible. Current research is attempting to make the argument that to really get the most out of your “me time,” you should try meditation.
When we first think of meditation, we might imagine that the practice is confined to yoga studios and buddhist temples. However, meditation can be practiced anywhere, and the news is filled with stories of organized meditation programs slowly filtering into classrooms and business offices.
To backtrack and give a brief history of the practice, anthropologists believe that the practice of meditation is approximately 5,000 years old, with the first written record of the practice seen 2,500 years ago in the Bhagavad Gita (Hinduism’s holy text). However, it wasn’t until much later, in the 1950s, when psychologists really began to start studying it, and the scientific community began to take note of the positive effects it had on the monks and yogis who regularly practiced it. More current research has looked specifically into meditation as an effective treatment for stress reduction.
One study done in 2015 showed that frequent meditation can aid in amygdala function, the region of your brain responsible for processing fear and stress. Furthermore, a second study from 2015 showed that when compared to a control group of non-meditators, frequent meditators had increased gray matter in the sensory, auditory, and frontal cortices. These areas of the brain are responsible for perceiving sensation and executive function, and an increase in gray matter indicates better neural connectivity and function. In other words, the simple act of meditation is shown to be linked with actual physical changes in the brain which is incredibly exciting.
So if better brain function and stress reduction sounds like something you would interested in acquiring, here are a few simple steps to get you started:
Find a place with few distractions where you can sit comfortably, with your spine erect.
Close your eyes, and slowly try to become more aware of your surroundings.
Slow down your breathing: inhaling for 5 counts, exhaling for 6.
When errant thoughts come to your mind (which is inevitable), acknowledge them, and then send them on their way, bringing your mind back to the breathing.
Continue the breathing for as long as you are able, gradually relaxing every major muscle group (start with head and shoulders, then arms, then torso, then legs).
(For those with technological prowess who are looking for a little more guidance, there are several apps on the market today, such as “Calm”, that can walk you through a more structured mediation.)
So relax, take a deep breath, and let your brain go to work!