You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes a day, unless you are too busy — then you should sit for an hour. ~Author Unknown
I do not meditate daily. There, I’ve said it. To be perfectly honest I don’t practice mindfulness regularly at all.
I’ve tried it, of course. I’ve sat still for varying amounts of time, counting inhalations and exhalations. I even went on a weekend retreat while backpacking in Thailand where pretty much all we did was meditate. Sitting meditation, walking meditation, eating meditation, yoga exercises… I felt fantastic afterwards, but who has time to do this regularly? Concentrating on your breathing for an hour or more can be hard work. That’s if I could find a spare hour! Unfortunately, I see mindfulness as a luxury and not a necessity.
So I don’t do it and I feel guilty about it. In fact, sometimes thinking about how I don’t meditate daily can cause more of the stress that I’m trying to get rid of!
Do I really need to bother with it? Is it all some Eastern mystical rubbish or are there real benefits to be had from practicing mindfulness on a regular basis? And if so, how can I cheat?
The Benefits Of Mindfulness
Although at least one study has suggested that there may be a slight potential downside to mindfulness, in the main, science has found that there are many real benefits. It’s great for your mental health as it decreases stress levels and boosts mood. Studies have found that it can help reduce depression and anxiety. It physically changes your brain by increasing grey matter and strengthens neural connections. It helps boost your powers of concentration and will-power. It helps you to better control your emotions. It decreases inflammation and pain and it enhances your immune system.
Basically, you know all that hype you’ve been hearing about mindfulness? It’s not just hype. Practicing meditation regularly is probably the cheapest, simplest thing that you can do to improve yourself. In fact it’s probably second only to exercise.
Types of Meditation
I’ve used the terms mindfulness and meditation interchangeably in this article but Mindful Meditation is just one type of meditation. It comes from the Buddhist tradition. It is probably the most famous and widely practiced in the west and it is the style most studied in the sources listed below.
Transcendental Meditation is another style that originates in Hindu tradition. Loving-Kindness Meditation originates from Tibetan Buddhism. All three styles affect the brain positively yet differently.
This article is concerned with mindful meditation in its widest possible definition. At the risk of over-simplifying, mindful meditation involves concentrating on your breathing. You focus your attention on your abdominal area and nostrils while inhaling and exhaling. The aim is to remained focused on your breathing. Distracting thoughts will pop into your mind but you should just notice them and let them go, returning your focus again to your breathing. There are many ways to do this type of meditation. In the sources below you will find a list of 23 techniques that don’t all involve sitting still in the lotus position!
So, meditation is good. Regular practitioners will go out of their way to make time for daily meditation because they know the benefits, but what about the rest of us? Can we ease ourselves into it? What’s the least amount of time that we can try without getting overwhelmed? Science to the rescue!
A study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that by practicing mindful meditation for just 10 minutesa day can improve your attention skills. The trial followed thirteen men and twenty-seven women over 16 weeks. Twenty were assigned to a control group and the others practiced mindful meditation for ten minutes a day. At the end of the trial they were attached to an EEG machine and their attention was tested using what is knows as the Stroop test.
In sum, these findings provide a positive message to everybody who considers taking up mindfulness meditation practice. Even short, regular meditation practice may hone our attentional systems in a useful fashion. – Moore et al, 2012
They found that the people who meditated daily for ten minutes noticeably improved their attention skills after sixteen weeks. They enjoyed “sustained attention and alertness and the orienting of attention without interfering or conflicting stimuli”. So basically they could focus better on what they were doing and found it easier to ignore distractions. I could do with a boost in that department!
The study did not find that the participants experienced better moods or were more mindful in their everyday lives. The authors speculate that this may be due to the “meditative dose” of ten minutes being too low. So don’t expect miracles, ten minutes is just the minimum, but at least it’s an achievable minimum!
In an earlier article I wrote about how you can hack lofty goals into manageable tasks. Ten minutes are certainly manageable as a starting point! So if you want to be mindfulness guru, or simply would like to sharpen your attention and strengthen your brain, then set a timer for ten minutes and concentrate on your breathing. Meditate daily and see if you can notice the improvement. If you have ten minutes for Facebook then you have ten minutes for a brain enhancing exercise! After a while, up the time to fifteen or twenty minutes. Let’s do it together! Let me know how you’re getting on in the comments below and I’ll do the same.
Do you have any meditation tips? Please let me know about them!