If you’re a regular here and have been keeping up with me for the last few weeks, you may have noticed a theme. In this blog, I talk about slowing down and taking time to enjoy life, sip champagne, and live a deliberately decadent life. And, most of the time, that’s how I live. Except for right now.
Without going into a lot of detail, I’ll just say that I’ve got some things going on that are causing me some stress. It’s not big, debilitating stress but more like low-grade nagging stress that saps my energy, compromises my focus, and keeps me up at night. Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” That’s what I’m doing, and I do know with every ounce of my being that things are going to be better on the other side.
Even if you’re basically a happy, grateful and content person, life’s external stuff can threaten that otherwise sunny outlook. It’s during times like these that I ramp up the self-care tactics that are always a part of my life. I try to eat better than normal, get to bed earlier, take in some restorative yoga classes, smudge the house, and meditate.
Meditation means different things to different people, but, in essence, it involves being still, quieting the mind, and being present. It doesn’t have to be religious or even spiritual. There is no wrong experience. Some people focus on their breath, some people use visualization or guided imagery, and some people just try to detach from a whirlwind of thought even if for only a few minutes. It’s also possible to meditate while moving, such as a walking meditation or mindful yoga practice.
Meditation has become a more consistent routine for me over the last few years, and it’s immensely helpful in getting through tough times. Just as physical strength training will burn calories and improve your body even while you’re not actually doing it, meditation improves your mind even when you’re not doing it.
Regular meditation can help reduce stress. Stress is a major player in many physical maladies from high blood pressure to immune system deficiency, so we could all be healthier by reducing stress. Meditation also improves sleep, focus, memory, mood, and cognition.
Here’s something really compelling though: meditation actually changes the the form and function of the brain. A study from UCLA found that long-term meditators have better-preserved brains compared to people who do not meditate. As we age, our brain loses grey matter. But, people who meditate over the long-haul loss grey matter more slowly.
Another very interesting study conducted at Yale University proved that meditating helps your brain work differently. The default mode network, or DMN, is the network in the brain that’s responsible for a wandering mind. This network is, by default, active almost all of the time when we are just going about our day and not thinking about anything in particular. Our thoughts wander from things in the past and things in the future, and often these thoughts are self-referential, making us worry, have regrets and get stressed out. Because meditation helps us focus on only the present, new brain networks become more active in the brain. So, even when we’re not meditating, our brain is better equipped to help us snap out of a destructive, ruminating thought process.
There’s lots of science behind the benefits of meditation, but newcomers to the practice may find it a little intimidating. What if I’m doing it wrong? What if I don’t have time? What if I feel silly doing this?
The good news is that getting started with meditation is really simple. Just start. While meditation is simple, it is not easy for most people. It’s harder than you think to sit and do nothing. I suggest starting small, maybe only five minutes in the morning before your day gets hectic. Find a comfortable position in a quiet room or even your car before you head into work, close your eyes, and focus on the present. Your mind will most likely wander and when it does, recognize it and bring yourself back to focusing on your breath.
I have been able to work my way up to a 20-minute mediation some days when I have time in the morning. I find that setting a timer and even using a meditation app on my smartphone has been helpful. Over time, you will find what works for you and you will get more comfortable with meditation. You will even get better at it with practice. You can also read up on meditation and look for workshops on the subject in your community.
If you are convinced that meditation is a good thing, I encourage you to try it. Just start – it doesn’t have to be perfect. In the meantime, I’ll be continuing my practice, quieting my mind, and focusing on my breath as I navigate through life’s challenges. If you see me sitting in my car with eyes closed, please don’t tap on the windows!