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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

More by this author

Tom Casano

The CEO and Founder of Life Coach Spotter

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

You may have heard someone say they are “totally right brained” or that they’re “a left brained person.”

There is a pervasive myth that’s been making its rounds for over a century: people have two hemispheres of their brains, and if they have a dominant left brain, they’re more analytical; and if they have a dominant right brain, they are more creative.

Before we go debunking this theory and then giving some tips for how people can access their creative brain centers, let’s first take a look at where the left brain/right brain lateralization theory comes from.

The Left Brain/Right Brain Lateralization Theory

In the 1800s, scientists discovered that when patients injured one side of their brains, certain skills were lost.[1] Scientists linked those different skills to one side of the brain or the other. Thus began the left brain/right brain myth that continues to this day.

Then, in the 1960s and 70s, Roger W. Sperry led 16 operations that cut the corpus callosum (the largest region that connects both brain hemispheres together) in order to try to treat patients’ epilepsy. Sperry wrote about the differences in the two hemispheres as a result of those surgeries.[2]

Sperry’s work was popularized in 1973 with a New York Times article about his lateralization theory—that people were either right brained (read: logical) or left brained (read: creative). From here, Sperry won the Nobel Prize for his work and numerous other publications spread the right brain/left brain myth.

Debunking the Right Brain/Left Brain Myth

If anything, the lateralization theory of the brain is a gross exaggeration. It is true that people have two hemispheres of their brains. It is also true that there are differences in the composition of those two hemispheres.

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However, the hemispheres are actually much more interconnected than Sperry’s work initially made it seem.

In a 2013 study,[3] scientists scanned over 1000 people’s brains, checking for lateralization. They confirmed that certain brain functions occur predominately in one hemisphere or the other but that, in reality, the brain is actually much more interconnected and complex than the right brain/left brain lateralization theory makes it seem.[4][5]

A New Metaphor for Right Brain/Left Brain

How do we get past this right brain/left brain myth?

First, let’s look at what contemporary cognitive science says about brain regions, and creative and logical modes of thinking.

My background is as an improviser and improv researcher. I wrote Theatrical Improvisation, Consciousness, and Cognition and think looking at improvisation and the brain can shed light on a new model for talking about unlocking the brain’s creative potential.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans have shown that while trained improvisers improvise (musically on a keyboard, rapping, and comedic improvisation) an interesting shift happens in their brain activity. [6]

A region called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex decreases in activity and creative language centers such as the medial prefrontal cortex increase in activity. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is linked with conscious thoughts—that inner voice that tells you not to say something or criticizes you when you do.

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The medial prefrontal cortex is among the brain regions linked with creativity. So, instead of thinking about right brain and left brain, perhaps it’s more current and correct to think about more specific brain regions instead of hemispheres. Perhaps, it’s more useful to think about which activities and strategies will allow us to inhibit our dorsolateral prefrontal cortexes and allow our medial prefrontal cortexes to flourish.

How to Enhance Your “Right Brain” — Creativity

Whether we’re talking about right brain versus left brain, creative versus logical, or medial prefrontal cortex versus dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, we still know enough to talk about strategies to tap into your creative brain’s full potential.

So, now that we’ve dispelled the right brain/left brain myth and looked at a more contemporary, cognitive neuroscience theory of brain regions and creativity centers, let’s look at how to tap into the potential of your creative brain.

1. Performing Arts

One way to tap into your creative brain centers is to participate in the performing arts. Whether you improvise, act, or dance, the performing arts allow you an embodied experience that will help you snap out of your habitual, logical thoughts.

Another benefit of the performing arts is that it changes your attention. Attention and creativity are inextricably linked. When we improvise, act, or dance, we have to focus intently on our fellow performers. This means we are forced to focus less on our conscious, logical thoughts. This frees us up for more creative thinking and expression.[7]

One of the conclusions of my research on improvisation is that focusing intensely on fellow improvisers and the task at hand makes it more likely that we experience a flow state. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi,[8] a Professor of Psychology and Management defines flow as an optimal psychological state when our skills match the difficulty of the task at hand. Our perception of time is altered as we get into the zone and become more present and in the moment during our chosen activity.[9]

A flow state is a creative state. It’s the opposite of crunching numbers and forcing ourselves to work out a problem with the conscious regions of our brain. So, get up, improvise, act, or dance to access your creativity.

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2. Visual Art

Art teacher Betty Edwards[10] wrote a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Here again, we see that a shift in our attention can lead us to an increase in our creative thinking.

Edwards’ book gives art students tricks to shift the way they see the world. For example, one exercise encourages students to literally flip whatever it is they’re drawing upside down before they draw it. This forces budding artists to literally see the object in a new way. This shift allows them to focus more on the individual components and patterns of the object, which allows them to draw it better.

Shifting how we see things is another way we can access our creative brain centers. Take an art class to shut off your conscious, critical thoughts and start seeing things from a new, more creative perspective.

3. Zone Out

If there’s one thing creativity doesn’t like, it’s being coerced.

I think we’ve all felt that awful feeling of trying to force ourselves to be creative. When we force it, we’re really trying to force our logical brain regions to be creative. It’s like asking your gardener to perform your appendix surgery. It’s just not what she does.

Instead, stop forcing it. Take a break. Take a long walk or a relaxing bath or shower. Let your mind wander.

Whatever you do, stop forcing it. This break lets your creative centers rise to the surface of your attention and get heard.

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4. Practice Mindfulness

The final trick to start accessing your so-called right brain is to practice mindfulness.

Now, there’s a lot of different ways to go about mindfulness. You can take a more physical approach with a yoga class. Or you can try meditating to become more aware and in tune with your thoughts and feelings: Meditation for Beginners: How to Meditate Deeply and Quickly

You could also try to incorporate fun mindfulness exercises[11] into your everyday routine like forcing yourself to go on detours or pretending you’re a detective who needs to examine people and places closely.

Any way you do it, mindfulness exercises and training can help you become better versed in how your brain works and what your normal thought process is like on a day-to-day basis. If we’re ever going to reach our optimal creativity, we have to become an expert in how our individual brain functions. Mindfulness is one way to become your very own brain expert.

Mindfulness also has added benefits like calming us, slowing our breathing, and helping us become more observant, which are also great ways to start tapping into our creative potential.

Final Thoughts

So, it may not be correct to say that our right brain is our creative brain, but it is still a valid pursuit to try to optimize our creative brain centers.

The key to do so is to relax, become observant, shift your perspective, move your body, try something new, and, whatever you do, don’t force it.

Creativity can feel slippery. It can abandon us when we need it most, but by slowing down and looking at things from a new perspective, we can give ourselves a better chance of tapping into our ultimate creativity, even if that doesn’t exactly mean our “right brain.”

More Tips on Boosting Creativity

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

Reference

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