The benefits of meditation have been talked about for years around mental health, boosted immunity, vitality and creativity. Sounds too good to be true but the good news is science is now supporting that improved well-being, enhanced creativity and a rewired brain are just some of the benefits of daily meditation practice. So what exactly is modern science saying about this ancient wisdom?
The Benefits of Meditation
Meditation reduces anxiety at a brainwave level. A team of researchers at the University of Zagreb in Croatia have published a study on the impact of meditation on brain waves. The EEG brainwave patterns were measured as an indicator of peace. Results confirmed that the effects of transcendental meditation on EEG brainwave patterns and anxiety suggested that meditation is helpful in treating different types of anxiety disorders.
Creativity is enhanced in meditators. In another study published in the Creativity Research Journal it was found that after meditation when participants were given the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking they showed higher than average results for creativity and successful problem solving.
Job burnout is happen less when you meditate. In a third study researchers looked at job burnout, a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, and found significant reduction in a group who had been meditating versus the control group. This was a clinically important decrease in perceived stress.
Pain is more easily tolerated. A study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research done on chronic pain suffers showed that those who meditated didn’t reduce pain levels but the amount of pain they were having caused them less discomfort than the non-meditating control group.
Interestingly despite these scientific results, meditation is still viewed by many as a hippie practice that borders on religion more than healthcare. In one study 80% of Americans asked said they would rather take a pill to relieve anxiety than sit for 20 minutes in meditation. Perhaps this is because people don’t know how to get started on a practice.
How To Get Started
If you want to get started at home in a simple meditation practice and see these benefits in as little as 2 weeks, here are 8 simple steps to get you started.
1.Pick a time.
I learned that the best time is when you first wake up. The acronym I learned was RPM for rise, pee, meditate. Why? If you put it off until later in the day, it tends to get lower and lower on the to do list.
2. Make it a habit.
Start by scheduling it on your calendar for 21 days. That’s enough time to get a habit formed.
3. Avoid distractions.
Find a place where you can sit without interruptions for 15-20 minutes. If you have small children pick a time where they won’t need your immediate attention and tell them they can sit with you but you won’t talk to them until you are done.
4. Comfort is key.
Sitting is recommended more than laying down because your body equates laying down with sleep and you are more likely to doze off if you lay down, Make sure you are warm enough. And there is no need to be in a yoga posture as you sit. Cross legged is fine. Eyes closed if possible.
5. Start by following the breath.
This means just bring full awareness away from anything but inhaling and exhaling. Witness what your breath is doing without trying to change it or control it.
6. Don’t try to stop thinking.
You have approximately 80,000 thoughts each day. It’s impossible to stop them from coming. The goal in meditation is just to notice when you are thinking and refocus back on the breath. This trains the brain to focus for longer durations without asking it to stop thinking.
7. Don’t compare your meditation to others.
Don’t even compare it to your last meditation. Each one is different. Judging your meditation means that there was a goal you were trying to achieve in the meditation. “There is no try just do” in the words of yoda.
8. Benefits that start in meditation are happening outside meditation.
You will notice the benefits of what you do in meditation, not during the meditation but in the rest of your day. You might notice that you have more patience, more creativity or more vitality.
In the words of Pema Chodron: “Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better, it’s about befriending who we are”