The daily life of a human can be stressful, it is stressful because there are indeed many things that are out of our control. This fact can be overwhelming when it is brought to the forefront of any given day for any given reason. So it is crucial to learn how to gain more control over various aspects of our lives. I have found many things that aid me personally to this end, and I am a rather calm human because of them. However, there is one simple act that has dramatically influenced the awareness of my surroundings which in turn provides me with an ability to remain calm, harness control, and pursue my goals.
This practice is called meditation. Most of us know precisely what this behavior is, and we have all at least heard the word bounce off a wall somewhere at some point. Simply sit comfortably, and close your eyes. I have mentioned meditation in past blogs and am prepared to elaborate on why I believe mediation is Tantamount. All too often meditation becomes just another word in our repertoire, when it should be something we practice daily if possible.
I have personally been practicing meditation since I was 14, in the beginning I was ignorant of the importance. At this point I am approaching 24 and I meditate almost every day. There are many types of meditation, some can last for hours but for practical application 15 to 30 minutes is great. One of the most common forms is mindfulness meditation, this is where you slowly attempt to become more and more aware of your surroundings and your inner state. It is passive observation and occasionally having your mind drift is not only extremely common but also can be useful. I have had countless thought tunnels which have provided reductions in stress and in many cases I acquire ideas, especially as it pertains to playing the guitar.
The thing I hear the most about meditation when people do not meditate is that it does not work for them and that while they meditate they cannot focus. The thing to remember is everyone starts off like that and we all have to go through the motions. If anything it is only indicative of an unruly mind which you do not want. For me, this period of focusing lasts for only about a minute and then I go into my meditation but I have been doing it for a while. Hence, it is important to realize that over time you become better at it, just as with all things you do, nothing can replace experience.
So why meditate?
It is simple, the practice of meditation has physiologic effects, it changes you positively. Meditation reduces stress, reduces anxiety, reduces depressive symptoms, increases pain tolerance, decreases blood pressure, lowers the heart rate, and perhaps the most impressive, it affects your brain. This is where the magic happens, parts of the brain associated with stress begin to shrink over time, and the hippocampus, which is associated with memory, begins to grow. You entire brain enhances its connectivity over time and the connections are driven toward mediating response to the environment, in that, you respond better to daily stressors. You make better choices for yourself, you treat others better, you sleep better. Meditation slows brain aging and improves cognitive function, all of these effects come with time and frankly little effort. The effort you put into meditation takes the form of time spent meditating, which is another response when people do not meditate, they do not have time. In the time it takes to watch a sixth of a Netflix show, you can meditate. In the time it takes to make coffee, you can meditate. In the time it takes you to stare at Facebook, you can meditate. The act is so simple that it is hard to reconcile any excuse in light of the well documented evidence.
In a particular study (Laneri et. al.), researchers found that brain white mater density increased after sustained meditation. The white matter in your brain is the axons of the neurons of your brain, to contrast, grey matter is the neuron body. Axons are responsible for signal propagation in your brain and the reason it is white is because of something called myelin. Myelin is a sheath that wraps around the axon and helps the signal travel faster as well as protecting the axon from damage. Do not get all wrapped up in terminology, the main thing to take away here is that meditation aids in signal propagation and neuroprotection.
For those who are more concerned with the action itself, the answer is yes, at the very beginning it can be frustrating. In fact, I remember becoming frustrated while meditating, I became frustrated because my thoughts would not go away, I was under a bombardment. Over time, that completely dissipated, and alas I had more control over my mind, my emotions, my reactions, and my actions themselves. It has made me more productive, more open, more conscious. It has helped with every aspect of my life in some way, whether it be studying for tests, or reading.
Finally, Id like to take a moment to elaborate on kinds of meditative practices in an effort it elucidate how deep the rabbit hole goes. Also bear in mind that it is YOUR meditation so make it your own, there is no inherent need to conform to any particular meditation. Mindful meditation is simple, sit, close your eyes, let your mind go and bring it back to focus slowly over and over. The next is one I refer to as Focused meditation, this is where I focus on something like a problem or perhaps it is simply to be completely present in the moment (being completely present is quite hard to do, but worth every attempt). In this meditation, I focus on the subject that I choose and refuse to let my mind wander. This form can be intense, and I often transition from mindful to focused to aid in my success. I have had occurrences in which my body feels like its vibrating and I become warm, but that feeling is fleeting because the second that I “notice” how my body feels, it completely disappears, I have only felt this twice. You can take your own spin on meditation, get creative, in Zen meditation, sometimes you meditate with your eyes open, there are many facets to the experience. All of these facets contribute to your brain health and ultimate well being.
So next time you are working your morning routine, meditate, and go forth to conquer your day, and become one step closer to the best version of yourself.
Laneri, D., Schuster, V., Dietsche, B., Jansen, A., Ott, U., & Sommer, J. (2015). Effects of Long-Term Mindfulness Meditation on Brain’s White Matter Microstructure and its Aging. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 7, 254. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2015.00254