By Heather Matzkowitz, LMSW
With more and more people taking an initiative to focus on their mental health, meditation has become increasingly popular. Meditation is one of many practices that not only improves mental health, but also supports overall wellness. You do not need to be an expert to meditate, you simply need a quiet space and a couple of minutes to yourself. Once you start incorporating meditation into your lifestyle, you will begin to notice all of the wonderful benefits that it can have on your mind, body, and spirit:
Physical Changes to Your Brain
A study conducted in 2011 at Harvard found that meditating for just 8 weeks increases your brain size in three beneficial areas. 1. The left hippocampus which is responsible for your ability to learn and retain information. 2. The posterior cingulate cortex which is responsible for controlling how your mind wanders. 3. The temporoparietal junction, which is responsible for empathy and compassion. Additionally, this same study also found that there were decreases in cell volume in the amygdala, the area of the brain that is responsible for fear, stress and anxiety.
Reduction of Negative Emotions
Studies have shown that practicing meditation helps you to better manage stress, and also significantly decrease the negative side effects of stress. A study conducted by Professor William Kuyken found that mindfulness meditation helped people just as much as commonly prescribed anti-depressant drugs. Furthermore, meditation has proven to be helpful in stopping or slowing obsessive thinking, anxiety, depression, and hostility.
Increase in Concentration and Focus
Neuroscientist Giuseppe Pagnoni found that meditation “not only changes brain patterns, but it also confers advantages in mental focus that may improve cognitive performance.”
Overall Health Benefits
A study conducted by Elizabeth Blackburn found that meditation had effects on the body at a genetic level. She found that meditation could protect the length of your telomeres, which could possibly slow down the aging process.
Increase in Positive Emotions
Practicing meditation produces positive emotions that increase over time as you practice on a daily basis.
So, how can someone who has never meditated before begin meditating? Here are some simple steps to help get you started:
Where should I meditate? You can technically meditate anywhere you would like — in a chair, bed, on the floor, etc. However, the most optimal and beneficial way to meditate is by sitting on the floor (you can sit on a yoga mat, rug, or pillows) because it keeps you wide awake and allows you to sit for long periods of time.
What do I do with my body? As a beginner meditator, you can criss cross your legs like pretzels if you are sitting on the ground. Your arms can rest on your thighs, and your hands can rest on top of each other and form a cup shape, and your thumbs can touch (it is completely up to you!) What is most important is that your arms feel relaxed. Your back should be straight and your head should be completely level, facing forward. You may meditate with your eyes open or closed. However, for beginners, eyes closed is recommended as it is easier to focus.
How long should I meditate for? Before you begin meditating, it is advised that you set an alarm nearby. This prevents your mind from wondering about how much time is left for the session. For beginner meditations, starting with just 5 minutes is best. You may increase your time spent meditating the more you get use to it. Most peopler recommend meditating anywhere between 10-20 minutes.
What do I do during a Mindfulness Breathing Meditation? It is important to make sure that you are breathing through your nose. The focus should be directed towards your breath. Observe the way the air feels as it is moving through your nostril. Notice the transition from inhale to exhale. Do not judge your observations, simply observe them in the present moment. You will notice that as you are doing this, thoughts will begin to enter your mind, which will be distracting. When you notice your mind wandering, simple redirect your focus back to your breath. This is how you train your mindfulness muscle! It is totally normal to have thoughts come up as you are meditating, especially for beginners. Try not to criticize yourself when it does.
It is important to be aware that the more habitual you make mindfulness meditation, the more benefits you will obtain from it. You will also notice that the more you practice, the more you will have your entire focus on your breath for longer amounts of time. In order to start truly seeing the wonderful benefits of meditation, you should try to meditate on a daily basis. As previously mentioned, it only takes a small amount of time out of your day!
Heather Matzkowitz, LMSW is therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support with incorporating mindfulness into your life, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.