Meditation and mindfulness are not considered “fads” in the medical and science community anymore. I recommend twenty minutes or longer a day for your mental wellness. As you practice everyday, it will become second nature to you – just like brushing your teeth. It is good for you. It can be done anywhere. Studies show it reduces stress, a depressed mood, anxiety, pain, and helps with focus. You can do a “moving meditation” with exercise, a traditional chant, engage in yoga, or just focus on your breath.
Usually when someone comes to see me they have tried everything to be well. I always incorporate the recommendation to practice meditation and/or mindfulness daily. An example of mindfulness that I share with my clients is a phrase I use throughout the day: “Be kind. Be loving.” These phrases are helpful in staying “present”.
Develop a practice that works for you. Define what your mode of relaxation is and incorporate that into your daily practice as a meditation. Think positive thoughts, visualize the best version of yourself, and send loving thoughts to yourself, your loved ones and the world. As you incorporate this daily, you will begin to see the positive difference it will make in your life.
I have gratitude for the research of Neuroscientist Sara Lazar of Harvard University. She is a “Meditation Scientist Super Star” in my mind! She was so inspired after taking a yoga class, that she switched her Ph.D. studies from molecular biology to the neuroscience of meditation. She is one of the first scientists to test the benefits of meditation and mindfulness with brain scans.
Her interview by the Washington Post on 5/26/15 discussed her group’s neuroimaging studies. Her first study looked at long-term meditators. A 50-year-old meditator’s brain had the same amount of gray matter in the prefrontal cortex as a 25 year old. The frontal cortex is associated with working memory and executive decision-making.
When you are mindful you are paying attention to your breathing, sounds and present moment and shutting cognition down. This allows you to still and quiet your mind, which allows you to relax.
Her second study looked at people in an eight-week mindfulness stress reduction program who had never meditated before and had a non-participating control group called “non-meditators”.
I was pleasantly surprised by Sara Lazar’s study results. Here is what she found:
The meditators showed thickening in areas of the brain that correlate with an improvement in self-relevance, learning, cognition, memory, emotional regulation, perspective taking, empathy and compassion.
Does this sound too good to be true? There is more…
The amygdala, “the fight or flight part of the brain” which is important for anxiety, fear and stress got smaller in the group that went through the mindfulness-based stress reduction program. The change in the amygdala was also correlated with less stress!
Her group’s study showed changes in the brain after just eight weeks. The participants took a weekly class and were told to meditate 40 minutes a day. In her study they averaged 27 minutes a day.
Her Harvard group continues to do studies to work on the functional significance, quantity, and quality of practicing meditation and mindfulness. Thank you Sara!
I know what I want our children to do right after the pledge of allegiance…
Meditate at school.
I would love to see this “be the norm.”
Dr. Denise’s Wellness Tips:
- Meditation and Mindfulness are considered a natural mind medicine.
- Be flexible with yourself. Start with 5-20 minutes a day.
- Find a word, phrase, or thought that honors your mindfulness style and repeat it throughout the day.
- Parents, teachers, doctors: start your children as young as possible with this essential wellness tool.