If the stress of 2015 is already getting the best of you, now may be a good time to give meditation a whirl.
The practice of meditation has been around for centuries as a way to enhance health and wellness, but there is emerging scientific evidence that meditation can impact a number of clinical conditions such as anxiety disorders, asthma, depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic pain and sleep difficulties, just to name a few. For that reason, meditation is now considered by many in the medical field to be an adjunctive or complementary treatment to modern medicine.
While there are many forms of meditation, from transcendental to Tai chi, the practice of mindfulness meditation simply means being fully present in the moment, exploring your thoughts, feelings and sensations without judgment. If you’ve never tried meditation, here’s an easy way to start…
- Find a relatively quiet space and sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed. An office chair will even work.
- Close your eyes and concentrate on your breath. Think about the air going into your nose and out through your mouth. Continue that process, inhaling deeply and exhaling deliberately for a few minutes.
- While the goal is to clear your mind of all distracting thoughts, it’s perfectly natural for your mind to wander. Simply acknowledge the thoughts and then return to focusing on your breath.
- Continue this process for as long as you can. Research has shown that even a few minutes of deep breathing can lower blood pressure.
This is only the first step. There are many classes, online resources and apps that can help take you to the next level of meditation.
While many feel immediate stress relief from this practice, MRI scans have shown actual changes in the brains of people who practiced mindfulness meditation for just eight weeks. The amygdala, the brain’s “fight or flight” center, appeared to shrink. This primal region of the brain is associated with fear and emotion, and is an integral part of the body’s response to stress. And as the amygdala shrinks, the pre-frontal cortex, which is associated with functions like awareness, concentration and decision-making, becomes thicker.
So the next time you feel your stress level increasing, find a quiet place and practice mindfulness meditation for a few minutes. It’s a great investment in your mental and physical health.