Nancy Nekonejad is a pharmacist with a doctorate degree from the University of Southern California. As an avid health advocate, her philosophy of wellness is to nourish not only the body, but also the mind and spirit so as to create an inner system of balance. Here, she writes about the importance of meditation.
From courses and apps to thousands of YouTube videos, meditation has become one of the most popular ways to achieve balance and stress relief. A more than 5,000-year-old practice is now more mainstream than ever. But why? Simply put, meditation has the power to heal and restore much of what our generation may be losing. With the era of social media, excessive multi-tasking and overthinking, the average adult is mentally overloaded. Most times, our minds are wandering in thoughts of the future, the past and worrying. It has become quite challenging to give our brains a break to just simply be. To be present, to be focused and to be aware. Practicing meditation can give us mental clarity as well as emotional stability.
So, what is meditation? Meditation is a technique to train attention and awareness. It is a transformation of the mind and body through concentration. Think of meditation as circuit training for your mind. Just as we condition our bodies through physical exercise, through meditation we condition our brains. So, let’s take this further and get scientific! The amygdala is a region of the brain responsible for processing our emotions. It is the “fight or flight” center of the brain involved in initiating the body’s response to stress. The pre-frontal cortex is the region of the brain that handles higher order brain functions such as, concentration and decision making. Research and MRI scans of the brain have shown that with just eight weeks of meditation practice, the amygdala begins to decrease in size while the pre-frontal cortex thickens. What does this actually mean? It means that with regular meditation practice, the overall brain function can be improved and tasks such as problem solving, comprehension and reasoning become more advanced. But the benefits of meditation do not end here.
The Benefits of Meditation
- Increased calmness and improved psychological balance
- Improved memory and concentration
- Increased creativity
- Increased self-awareness and empathy
- Increased physical relaxation
- Better sleep
With all of that said, meditation can be an overwhelming thing to do. You close your eyes and try to focus on nothing, after about 30 seconds every imaginable thought is suddenly racing through your mind. You feel discouraged and all you can think is “How does anyone do this?” A big misconception with practicing meditation is the idea that you must create a blank mind. This is not true. While meditation involves quieting the mind, it does not mean the mind goes blank. Instead, meditation is an active process of moving your thoughts toward consciousness and choice. You choose the thought that plays and pause the thoughts that don’t. Another important thing to note, it does not happen overnight! Start with just a few minutes a day and gradually build longer sessions with time and practice. The most common and simple meditation practice is one that focuses on the breath.
How to Meditate
- Choose a time that works for you. Choose a space that feels right. Choose an amount of time to practice.
- Get into a comfortable position. You can either sit up straight with the spine elongated or lie down flat.
- Close your eyes.
- Breathe naturally without making any efforts to control your breathing.
- Focus on your inhalations and exhalations. If your attention begins to wander acknowledge it, but do not judge it. Resume focusing on your breath.
If you completed that exercise, then cheers to you! You just meditated! Your meditation experience, however, may not always feel relaxing or pleasant. This is just a hard truth. For some it may trigger intense emotions or past traumas. In these moments do not panic and try to escape these feelings. Embrace them. Give yourself the opportunity to explore exactly what you are feeling. Tapping into our mind is a journey of discovery and at times it can be painful. Acknowledge the pain. Honor the pain. To heal your mind is to walk through this path until the pain no longer has power over you. Guided meditations, where a trained professional leads the session, are also beneficial in these situations. There are hundreds of meditation types to choose from. If one doesn’t work for you…try another…and another.
The Different Types of Meditation
Being present and in the moment can be turned into a meditative technique. Just focus on all things “now.” Notice sounds. Notice movement. Notice your emotions. Pay attention to your thoughts. The goal is to let the thoughts pass without judging them or becoming engaged in them. Stay focused on what is going on both around you and inside you in that moment.
This form of meditation focuses on picturing something or someone in your mind. Whether you imagine a scenic view or a person you love, your subject becomes the object of your attention. Through this type of meditation, kindness and compassion can be directed toward a person, or even yourself.
This technique focuses on a repeated sound to clear the mind, it can be a syllable, word or phrase. The mantra can be spoken, chanted, whispered or quietly repeated. Particularly useful against distractions, sleeplessness and fear, this type of meditation can also be exercised to boost positivity and self-love. A great way to start your day is to repeat, “I am healthy, I am happy, I am loved.” Make your own mantra for whatever serves you!
Not all forms of meditation need to be done in stillness. For those who prefer to be in action, movement meditation is ideal. For example, with walking meditation the goal is to focus on each step and walk slowly, staying connected to your feet. During a running meditation, your attention can be placed on the beat of your stride.
Through the various meditation techniques, we can take charge of our minds and what is flowing through them. As we become more mindful adults, we can lead by example, making a profound impact on our children and youth. With tools like meditation, we can foster future generations who are mentally aware and grounded. Meditation is exploring. It’s not a fixed destination. Make room to heal so you can make room for more happiness.