As a society, it’s apparent that we are experiencing the physical, emotional and mental repercussions of sustained stress. Multitasking has become the pace, yet the impact of stress and elevated cortisol on one’s health are undeniable, leading to anxiety, depression, gastrointestinal disorders, insomnia, anger and decreased work productivity.
Incorporating breaks into the day is scientifically proven to create a more focused and creative mind and improve mood. It used to be that meditation was some esoteric practice involving a monk sitting atop a hill. Now, large corporations such as Google and Aetna are implementing meditation practice and individuals are downloading meditation apps on their phone. People are craving time to reset, become more focused and deepen their connections.
Stereotypes About Meditation
- You must assume a certain pretzel-like posture
- You subscribe to a certain philosophy or religion
- You will start wearing long robes
- You are shirking responsibilities by ‘zoning out’
- You will become unemotional
Clearing Things Up
These stereotypes couldn’t be further from the truth! The beauty of meditation lies in its simplicity…the breath. Our breath is an incredibly powerful tool that resides within us. Without it, we cease to be living. By learning how to focus on your breath, you have the ability to simply observe passing thoughts and the range of emotions that surface – to observe without judgment and to practice self-compassion. The result is you gain some healthy clarity before you choose an action.
The benefits of meditation haven’t gone unnoticed in the medical community. Neuroscientists and researchers have been extolling the benefits of meditation and its impact on the physiology of the brain. Here is just some of what we know:
- Dopamine, the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter is released when in love, presented with food we like, or by recalling happy thoughts. Now researchers and the NIH are learning that this neurotransmitter, as well as others associated with lower levels of anxiety (GABA) and improved sleep (Serotonin), are also increased with meditation.
- The development of the prefrontal cortex of the brain is significantly altered by our interactions. When we are constantly distracted by the busyness of our life, we aren’t allowing the brain to synthesize memories and experiences. According to Daniel Amen, MD, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, UC Irvine, “A brain accustomed to static and noise while taking in information, will develop the need for fast-paced input to even register in the future.”
- Meditation helps to reduce anxiety and depression symptoms. When you are still and practicing non-judgment of your thoughts, there has been shown to be a decreased activation of the amygdala, the area of the brain associated with stress and anxiety. Meditation helps the brain from forming the negative thought patterns associated with mild-moderate depression.
Quick Meditation Guide
Like any exercise routine or sport, meditation takes practice! None of us have idle time but if you make the commitment, you can find 10 minutes in your day. You don’t need the perfect moment or the perfect location. Create the space and show up like you would for any other appointment.
To begin your own meditation practice, try one of these 3-5 minute Guided Meditations or follow these easy steps:
- Find a comfortable position either sitting on the floor, chair or at your desk. Feet firmly on the floor or cross-legged.
- Allow your body to feel heavy yet relaxed. Soften your facial muscles and shoulders. Keep your back straight but not stiff, hands-free.
- Breathe deeply in through the nose and slowly but evenly out through the mouth. As you inhale, feel the air from your breath reach every part of your body. Follow your breath. Repeat the breath without force but focusing on the inhale and exhale. Continue at your own pace.
- If your mind wanders off, that is normal! Simply use your breath to observe the wandering thoughts, without judgment, and bring your attention back to the breath. Continue to breathe for 5 minutes. Be kind to yourself.
- Notice how you feel. See each practice for what it offers you that day. Increase your meditation time to 10 minutes once you are comfortable with the process. Maybe set an intention to revisit during a stressful point in your day. Remember, you always have your breath.
Katie Zupan-Lehman received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and her master’s degree as a Family Nurse Practitioner from Case Western Reserve University and she is a Certified Mindfulness Practitioner. In her career, she has worked with some of the top genetic companies and mental health professionals in the field, including Sequenom, Genomind, Merck, Scripps, Sharp, Amen Clinic, and PsyCare. Through these experiences, Katie became fascinated with the impact of lifestyle on the growing epidemic of insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Paired with her passion for the mind-body connection, the arts, and self-care, she joined with her business partner to create Thyme & Presence and DAILY PRESENTS.
Also published on Medium.