As a therapist and coach, I have helped thousands of people begin a meditation practice. Every single one of them gave me the same frustrated reply, “I tried meditation but I just can’t do it!” To which I replied over and over again, “That is why they call is a ‘practice’!”
You CAN learn to meditate, but not if you start out thinking that you are supposed to be able to sit down and immediately quiet your mind. You can’t. You won’t. That, as I have said to thousands of clients over the years, is why it is called a practice!
Meditation has been around for centuries, and for good reason. It’s a very simple (but not necessarily easy) practice that can have a profound impact on your physical and mental health.
One of the most interesting things about meditation is how it changes your brain. Scientists have been studying the effects of meditation on the brain for decades, and they’re still learning new things all the time.
Here are some of the ways that meditation changes your brain:
Reduces stress: Meditation has been shown to reduce the activity of the amygdala, the part of the brain that’s responsible for fear and anxiety. This can help you feel less stressed and more relaxed.
Improves focus and concentration: Meditation helps to train your attention and focus. When you meditate, you’re constantly bringing your attention back to the present moment. This can help you to be more focused and less distracted in your everyday life.
Boosts mood and emotional regulation: Meditation helps to improve your mood and emotional regulation by increasing the connections between your thinking/decision-making part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) and the emotional seat of your brain (the amygdala), and by increasing the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood and well-being.
Instills greater empathy and compassion: Meditation increases activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that’s responsible for higher-order cognitive functions like empathy and compassion. This can help you to be more understanding and compassionate towards others.
Improves sleep quality: Meditation can help to improve sleep quality by reducing stress and anxiety. This can make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.
Reduces pain: Meditation has been shown to reduce pain perception by increasing the production of endorphins, natural pain relievers.
Improves cognitive function: Meditation can help to improve cognitive function by increasing the density of gray matter in the brain. Gray matter is responsible for processing information, memory, and decision-making.
Increases self-awareness: Meditation helps you to become more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. This can help you to better understand yourself and make more mindful choices.
Here’s what you need to contend with when you start meditating:
You WON’T be good at it to begin with. You won’t be able to quiet your mind. Your mind will be busy with all kinds of random thoughts and you will feel like you aren’t “getting it.”
It can be difficult to sit still and focus on your breath for an extended period of time, so don’t try to start off your new hiking hobby with Mount Everest! I suggest to my clients that they start with simply ONE MINUTE of meditation three or four times a day. That’s enough to get you started. When you stick with it, you’ll start to see and feel the benefits.
Here are a few tips for getting started with meditation:
- Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.
- Sit in a comfortable position, either on the floor or in a chair.
- Close your eyes and focus on your breath.
- Count each breath, noticing the rise and fall of your chest or abdomen as you breathe in and out.
- If your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your breath and start counting again.
- Start with one minute of meditation a few times per day and gradually increase the duration as you become more comfortable.
There are many different types of meditation, so experiment until you find one that works for you. And don’t be discouraged if you don’t see results immediately. It takes time and practice to experience the full benefits of meditation.
So, what are you waiting for? Start meditating today and see how it changes your brain for the better!