If you haven’t made a New Year’s resolution yet, I’ve got a suggestion for you. You’ve guessed it: meditate! Everyone I know who meditates regularly says it’s the number one thing that improves their happiness. Ten minutes a day for a week is enough to feel noticeably happier. And after eight weeks, your brain will have physically changed shape to make your new, more positive thought processes, permanent, as reported in a recent article in Scientific American.
MRI scans reveal that after eight weeks:
- The amygdala, an area of the brain involved in the body’s stress response, shrinks.
- As the amygdala shrinks, the prefrontal cortex, associated with the higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision making, becomes thicker.
- The connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain gets weaker, while the connections associated with attention and concentration get stronger.
In other words, primal responses to stress seem to be superseded by more thoughtful ones. The scale of these changes correlate with the number of hours of meditation a person has done.
Other activities, such as video games, can also strengthen the pre-frontal cortex, but it’s the disconnection of the mind from it’s ‘stress centre’ that seems to give rise to a range of mental and physical health benefits
From a more qualitative perspective, here’s what my friend Emma said she experienced:
“From early on, I have become much more aware of when I am feeling stressed, anxious or frustrated and am better able to take a step back rather than lose myself in the feeling. This has been particularly useful for work but has also been important for me in my relationships with colleagues, friends and family. I don’t succeed every time but I have definitely felt a change.”
But meditation isn’t just about managing stress. I would go so far as to say that almost any problem you might have: in your relationships, work pressure, anxiety, anger, physical pain, lack of self-worth, insomnia, and so on, can be greatly alleviated by meditating.
There are three key things you’re learning to do:
- Train your attention so that you can focus on one thing for a prolonged period of time. You also spend less time on ‘auto-pilot’ so you’re effectively living life more fully
- Regulate your emotions so you can calm your mind and body on demand
- Break negative thought patterns and establish positive ones such as being kinder towards yourself and others
It almost sounds too good to be true that these effects can be achieved through doing something that’s free and only takes ten minutes per day. If there were a drug with these benefits and no side-effects, people would be camping outside Boots to buy it like it was the iPhone 7.
Unfortunately, modern life has got people feeling that they ‘haven’t got time’ to sit still for ten minutes, so many who’ve felt the benefits of meditation don’t practice it regularly. So I’ve got two pieces of advice for you. First, find a friend who also wants to start meditating regularly. Second, both download Headspace, agree with each other at what time of day you’re going to practice, and encourage each other to stick to it. Do it everyday and I guarantee it will change your life.
Also, if you think your workplace could do with some mindfulness, please get in contact for a free taster session.