If you are familiar with my blog, you know I’m a big fan of meditation.
More recently, I’ve learned a lot about how meditation physically changes the brain. I have long known the benefits of meditation, specifically to reduce stress and anxiety, but the physicality of the brain change is new to me. Here’s how it works:
The cortical thickness of the left hippocampus, the brain area that helps us learn, grows in volume through meditation.
The posterior cingulate becomes larger and stronger, helping our minds wander less and giving us a more realistic sense of self.
Meditation helps strengthen the pons region. This region is involved in essential physical functions like sleep, facial expressions, and sensory input.
But we don’t want every area of the brain to get stronger. So, for example, the amygdala, the “fight or flight” governor, actually shrinks with meditation.
Want more information? A 2015 Washington Post article will give you more scientific detail on how it works.
It took me a while to “get it.” To understand how carving out only 10 minutes a day to meditate could indeed change how I felt, both physically and mentally. Initially, I thought that the only way to meditate was to sit cross-legged in a quiet room without distractions for at least 30 minutes a day. However, I couldn’t see myself doing that regularly.
Then I discovered that meditation is what you make of it. Meditation (or mindfulness) is being present and in the moment, no matter where present or the moment is.
My ideal morning routine includes a short exercise regimen and 10 minutes of meditation. That’s it. Short and sweet. Boom. Done! Starting my day with a routine that includes self-care gives me the momentum to feel successful first thing in my day and gives me the mental and physical energy to take on the day.
As I’m sure is the case for you, ideal routines don’t always happen. So I meditate whenever and wherever I can fit it in my schedule:
- In my car before a meeting.
- On the treadmill as part of my morning workout.
- During my lunch or other breaks.
- In stressful situations (I once meditated on a helicopter ride that was particularly scary for me).
- When I’m bored. If I feel a little tired or lost, I run a 10-minute meditation routine and suddenly feel rejuvenated.
I can almost hear you saying, “Cindy, tell me about the stress part. I’m under constant stress. How can only 10 minutes of meditation help?”
Here’s what the researchers have to say:
“When researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD sifted through nearly 19,000 meditation studies, they found 47 trials that addressed those issues and met their criteria for well-designed studies. Their findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that mindful meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain.” (Source: Harvard Health Publishing)
“Not only did the people who learned to meditate report feeling less stressed than people in the other class, but their blood measurements of ACTH, a stress hormone released in the brain and then into the bloodstream, were lower too, as well as markers of inflammation called pro-inflammatory cytokines.” (Source: Time.com)
If you are looking for the ideal meditation routine, a simple internet or app search on your smartphone will give you many options. For example, I’m a big fan of Headspace. Headspace offers a ton of variety with attention to time spent meditating (starting with as short as 3 minutes) and several focus-specific meditation packages (prioritization, competition, sleep, etc.).
What’s standing in your way of decreasing stress and anxiety by adding a short meditation routine to your day?
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