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Meditation Demystified: 3 Easy Tips to Get it Right

Meditation Demystified: 3 Easy Tips to Get it Right

Throughout my life (and I assume just about everyone’s life!) I’ve tried many different things to improve myself. Usually, I’m looking for ways to reduce my stress levels, develop better habits and think more positively – basically to be a happier person.

I’ve tried keeping a bullet journal (didn’t work for me), hypnotizing myself to eat less dessert (nope), reading a million self-help books (hit and miss), downloading productivity apps (which usually distract me from actually working). A lot of these things were either hogwash or just weren’t for me (some of my friends really like bullet journals!)

The one thing I’m fully confident of, the one thing that actually worked for me is meditation. Over the last year, I’ve been meditating consistently for 15 minutes a day. How has it changed me? I’m generally less stressful about insignificant things, I’m more focused at work, and my personal relationships are the strongest they’ve been in my entire life.

It has definitely changed me for the better.

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The Health Benefits of Meditation

You should start meditating today, if you’re not already. The benefits I’ve seen from meditation have been profound, but that’s merely an anecdote. What does the science say?

The scientific community has come to the resounding consensus that meditation is good for you (duh!) People have known this for centuries, but now scientific studies are finally catching up. Meditation helps us manage stress, reduce anxiety, and in some cases prevent depression.

People who meditate are generally less distracted and can focus on tasks for greater periods of time. Basically, it helps you work harder and for longer periods of time.

Another interesting scientific finding on meditation is that it can aid in drug recovery. Studies have shown for a long time that stressful situations and experiences can lead to relapse in recovering addicts. Now we’re beginning to understand that meditation can be a powerful tool to deal with stress and prevent relapses.

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Common elements among all meditation styles

There are many different meditation techniques out there, as well as schools of thought on the theory behind meditation. One book on meditation will tell you one thing, and the next book will tell you another. My suggestion to you, for now, is to ignore all that noise and just begin your meditation practice. You can always learn the theory and try new techniques later.

The different schools of meditation thought all share a few common elements regarding meditation. To summarize these points, we can say that meditation consists of three things:

  1. A peaceful, quiet area in which you can meditate. Perhaps this is a special room in your house or if you’re trying to meditate at work, an unused conference room. The important thing is that you feel safe, it’s quiet, and people aren’t coming and going in it, which could distract you from your practice.
  2. A comfortable meditation posture. Some people will recommend sitting cross-legged on a pillow on the floor, your back straight. Some will recommend sitting on the edge of a chair. Still others will recommend lying on the ground. At this point in your meditation practice, it doesn’t matter. Choose a posture in which you’ll be comfortable for up to 15 minutes – but not too comfortable or else you might fall asleep!
  3. An object on which you can focus your mind. Many people mistakenly believe that to meditate means to clear your mind of all thoughts, everything. While this is the end goal for many meditation practitioners, it’s not something many people can or want to achieve when they first begin meditating. Instead of thinking of nothing, fill your mind with a relaxed focus on one object. This can be nearly anything: your breath, the tip of your nose, the repetition in your mind of a few words (AKA a “mantra”). The important thing is to fix your mind on this object and try to not let your mind wander away from it.

After you’ve achieved these three fundamentals, resolve to meditate for a set period of time -10 minutes is a good place to start. After 10 minutes is up, pat yourself on the back. You’ve completed your first meditation session!

Your First Meditation Routine

The last section showed you how there’s no one correct way to meditate. Many different paths and techniques are available to you as you embark upon your meditation quest. Find your own way; there’s no real way to do meditation wrong, as long as you dedicate time and effort to your practice.

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I did, however, want to share one meditation routine that has worked well for me and will work well for beginners. But feel free to modify it as you see fit!

Beginner Meditation Routine

When: Morning, soon after you wake up. (Meditating early in the morning will help you to maintain the peace you gained in your session with you throughout your day.)

Where: On the floor in your bedroom

Posture: Sit upright. Use a balled up pillow if the floor is hard or your hips aren’t flexible

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Time: Set a timer on your phone for 10 minutes. Cease meditation when it goes off

Objective: Breath through your nose. Focus your mind on your breathing in and out. Focus especially on the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your nostrils. When your mind wanders from the sensation of the breath, gently lead it back to your objective.

One Last Thing to Consider: Guided meditation

Before I leave you to begin meditating, I wanted to throw one last thing out there. If you’re having trouble focusing throughout a short meditation session, consider doing a guided meditation. Guided meditation is simply meditating while someone else guides you through what you should be focusing on, how you should be breathing, etc. When I first began meditation, following guided instructions were invaluable in focusing my attention on my meditation session.

You can either use a recording of a guided meditation. (Look on YouTube and Spotify for high quality and free recordings.) Or you can attend a class at a local meditation center.

Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com

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Tom Casano

The CEO and Founder of Life Coach Spotter

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Published on July 7, 2020

Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

Exercise isn’t just for your body. Just as important is keeping your mind strong by training your brain with fun mental workouts.

Think of your mental and physical fitness the same way: you don’t need to be an Olympian, but you do need to stay in shape if you want to live well. A few cognitive workouts per week can make a major difference in your life.

The Skinny on Mental Workouts

Physical fitness boosts your stamina and increases your muscular strength. The benefits of working up a mental sweat and brain training, however, might not be so obvious.

Research suggests that cognitive training has short- and long-term benefits, including:

1. Improved Memory

After eight weeks of cognitive training, 19 arithmetic students showed a larger and more active hippocampus than their peers.[1] The hippocampus is associated with learning and memory.

2. Reduced Stress Levels

Mastering new tasks more quickly makes the work of learning less stressful. A stronger memory can call information to mind with less effort.

3. Improved Work Performance

Learning quickly and remembering key details can lead to a better career. Employers are increasingly hiring for soft skills, such as trainability and attention to detail.

4. Delayed Cognitive Decline

As we age, we experience cognitive decline. A study published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 10 one-hour sessions of cognitive training boosted reasoning and information processing speed in adults between the ages of 65 and 94.[2]

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Just like in physical exercise, what’s important isn’t the specific workout. To be sustainable, cognitive workouts need to be easy and fun. Otherwise, it’s too easy to throw in the towel.

Fun Brain Training Exercises for Everyone

The best about fun mental workouts? There’s no need to head to a gym. Feel free to mix and match the following activities for daily brain training:

1. Brainstorming

One of the simplest, easiest ways to engage your brain? Coming up with solutions to a challenge you’re facing.

If you aren’t good at solo ideation, ask a partner to join you. When I’m struggling to come up with topics to write about, I call up my editors to bat ideas around. Friends or co-workers are usually happy to help.

2. Dancing

Isn’t dancing a physical workout? Yes, but the coordination it requires is also great for training your brain. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

Studies suggest that dance boosts multiple cognitive skills.[3] Planning, memorizing, organizing, and creativity all seem to benefit from a few fancy steps.

3. Learning a New Language

Learning a new language takes time. But if you split it up into small, daily lessons, it’s easier than you might think.

With language learning, every lesson builds on the last. When I was learning Spanish, I used a tool called Guru for knowledge management.[4] Every time I’d learn a verb tense, I’d create a new card to give me a quick refresh before moving on.

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4. Developing a Hobby

Like languages, hobbies take time to develop. But that’s the fun of them: you get a little better—both at the hobby and in terms of brain function—each time you do them.

If you’re trying to train your brain and improve a certain cognitive skill, choose a hobby that aligns with it.

For example:

  • Attention to detail: Pick a hobby that requires you to work patiently with small features. Woodworking, model-building, sketching, and painting are all good choices.
  • Learning and memory: Choose an activity that requires you to remember lots of details. Your best bets are hobbies that require lots of categorization, such as collecting stamps or coins.
  • Motor function: For this brain function, physical activities can double as fun mental workouts. Sports like soccer and basketball build gross motor functions. Fine motor functions are better trained through activities like table tennis or even playing video games.
  • Problem-solving: Most hobbies require you to problem-solve in one way or another. The ones that test your problem-solving skills the most, however, take some investigation.

Geocaching is a good example: Using a combination of clues and GPS readings, geocaching involves finding and re-hiding containers. Typically done in a wooded area, geocaching is a fun way to put your problem-solving skills to the test.

5. Board Games

Playing a board game might not be much of a physical workout, but it does make for a fun mental workout. With that said, not all board games work equally well for cognitive training.

Avoid “no brainer” board games, like Candy Land. Opt for strategy-focused ones, such as Risk or Settlers of Catan. Remember to ask other players for their input.

6. Card Games

Card games build cognitive skills in much the same way board games do. They have a few extra advantages, though, that make them worthy of special attention.

A deck of cards is inexpensive and can be played anywhere, from a kitchen to an airplane. More importantly, a deck of cards opens the door to dozens of different games. Challenge yourself to learn a few in an afternoon.

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7. Puzzles

Puzzles are great tools for building a specific cognitive skill: visuospatial function. Visuospatial function is important to train because it’s one of the first abilities to slip in people struggling with cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.[5]

Choose a puzzle you’ll stick with. There’s no shame in starting with a 500-piece puzzle or choosing one that makes a childish image.

8. Playing Music

Listening to music is a great way to unwind. But playing music goes one step further. On top of entertaining you, it makes for a fun mental workout.

Again, choose an instrument you know you’ll stick with. If you’ve always wanted to learn the violin, don’t get a guitar because it’s less expensive or easier to pick up.

What if you can’t afford an instrument? Sing. Learning to control your voice is every bit as challenging as making a set of keys or strings sound good.

9. Meditating

Not all cognitive exercises are loud, in-your-face activities. Some of the most fun mental workouts, in fact, are quiet, solo activities. Meditating can help you focus, especially if you have pre-existing attention issues.

Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never meditated before. It’s easy:

  • Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down.
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes, or for however long you have to meditate.
  • Close your eyes or turn off the lights.
  • Focus on your breathing. Do not try to control it.
  • If your thoughts wander, gently bring them back to your breath.
  • When the timer goes off, wiggle your fingers and toes for a minute. Slowly bring yourself back to reality. Remember the sense of serenity you found.

10. Deep Conversation

There’s nothing more mentally stimulating than a good, long conversation. The key is depth: surface-level chatter doesn’t get the mind’s wheels spinning like a thoughtful, authentic conversation. This type of conversation helps in training your brain to think more deeply and reflect.

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Choose your partner carefully. You’re looking for someone who’ll challenge your ideas without being confrontational. Stress isn’t good for brain health, but there’s value in coming up with creative arguments.

11. Cooking

When you think about it, cooking requires an impressive array of cognitive skills. Developing a cook’s intuition requires a good memory. Making sure flavors are balanced takes attention to detail. When something goes wrong in the kitchen, problem-solving skills come into play. Motor control is required to stir, flip, and whisk.

If you’re going to cook, you might as well make enough for everyone. Invite them into the kitchen as well: coordinating with other chefs adds an extra layer of challenge to this fun mental workout.

12. Mentorship

Whether you’re the mentee or the mentor, mentorship is an incredible mental workout. Learning from someone you look up to combines the benefits of deep conversation with skill-building. Teaching someone else forces you to put yourself in their shoes, which requires empathy and problem-solving skills.

Put yourself in both situations. Being a student makes you a better teacher, and teaching others gives you insight into how you, yourself, learn.

Final Thoughts

Your mind is your most important possession, and training your brain is needed to maintain its health. Don’t let it get soft.

To keep those neurons firing at full speed, add a few fun mental workouts to your schedule. And if you’re still struggling to get your brain in gear, remember: there’s an app for that.

More Tips for Training Your Brain

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

Reference

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