Meditation is nothing new. But the amount of times it has come up in recent conversations has been staggering, likely due to Covid-related stress. Even the most cynical of friends have admitted to downloading either Headspace or Calm in an attempt to take the edge off. While the wellness savvy have long touted its benefits, meditation has taken over the mainstream in a big way.
While there are many types of meditation, the four common threads are usually: a quiet space free from distraction, comfortable posture, focus of attention and an attitude of openness. Studies indicate that taking time to reflect not only positively impacts the mind and body, but actually rewires the brain. If it’s transformation you seek, here are a few reasons to turn the gaze inwards:
Reduce stress and anxiety
By lowering the stress hormone cortisol, meditation helps induce relaxation. Repeating a mantra (a word or phrase) can also have a calming effect. Transcendental meditation —which involves silently repeating a word or sound to achieve complete stillness) is particularly effective for reducing burnout, depression and stress.
A research analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine recommends meditation as part of a mental health treatment plan for easing anxiety and depression. Studies also find that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) help decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Boost focus and productivity
A study from Harvard Medical School found a connection between meditation and processing new information. Brain scans showed an increase in grey matter in parts of the brain responsible for learning, memory and regulating emotions after taking part in an eight-week meditation program.
A different study from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University demonstrated that meditation improves concentration and decision-making. Participants in a three-day meditation program showed greater connectivity in parts of the brain that control attention.
Certain types of meditation, such as loving-kindness meditation, help to foster love for yourself and others. This can involve envisioning a friend or family member and wishing them happiness, which strengthens the brain’s connection to how others are feeling, and consequently your sense of empathy.
Also known as Metta, it begins by developing kind thoughts and feelings first towards yourself, then practicing this outwardly towards loved ones, acquaintances and even those you don’t like. Studies indicate that practicing this type of meditation has a positive impact on emotions, interactions and the understanding of others.
How to Meditate
• Find a comfortable seat where it is calm and quiet. Choose a position that you can sit comfortably in for a while.
• When you’re starting it may be helpful to set a timer for five to10 minutes
• Focus on your breath and the sensations in your body
• Simply observe passing thoughts, letting them go without reacting to them, or judging yourself should your mind wander
• Check in with yourself. Take a moment to notice how you feel physically and emotional afterwards and to take in your surroundings.
Written exclusively for THIA Wellness by Stephanie Shiu.