Whether due to age or experience, it’s easy to reach a point in life where true personal change —an actual fundamental shift in perspective with a lasting effect—seems like an illusion. You might feel as if you could have a burst of motivation and momentum, but it would be the result of a few good days at best and would end just as quickly before settling back into the old patterns of a mediocre life.
Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Sure, we’re all coachable, even if the practice is to learn how to be coachable. But is it possible to change who you are or how you experience the world on a physiological level?
Science seems to think so, and the tool to help make it happen may be a method that was previously considered rather unscientific: meditation.
Dr. Rachael Lazar, a neuroscience research clinician at Harvard University School of Medicine, established increases in myelin connective tissue in the corpus callosum—the part of the brain that connects the left and right hemispheres—after 20 minutes of daily mindful meditation in as little as seven days. Myelin acts as a sheath that improves connectivity and through-put in neuronal receptors. The bottom line is that daily mindfulness mediation practice improves brain function in only seven days.
Evidence-based research and medical findings indicate that mindful meditation improves self-control, objectivity, tolerance, flexibility, equanimity, improved concentration, mental clarity, emotional intelligence and the ability to relate to others and one’s self with kindness, acceptance and compassion. Who doesn’t need more of the above in their everyday life? We all do, and we can be well on our way within a week.
Begin with Zen
There are thousands of different types of meditation. The term derives from the Latin word meditatio, which means “to think with healing intention/effect.” Mindfulness is a form of meditation adapted from the Buddhist practice of Vipassana, or insight meditation.
Mindful meditation combines diaphragmatic breathing through the nose while focusing, moment to moment, on being present without judgment. Mindfulness can be practiced any time of the day or night, can be done anywhere, and it does not require any special clothing or equipment.
A fun way to begin and to feel a sense of community is to take a class or join a mindfulness group in your area. If that’s not an option, pick a convenient time and place where you won’t be disturbed and begin doing two to three minutes of guided mindfulness mediation daily.
Modern technology can also help you get started with this ancient practice. Inner peace may be as close as your iPhone: Apps like Buddhify or Headspace offer easy guided options of varying lengths and style. The actual act of meditation is not difficult to master—the greatest challenge will most likely be committing to a daily practice. Setting a calendar alert or phone alarm is a helpful way to stay on track.
Meditation in Movement
For some people, the thought of sitting quietly is borderline unbearable. Those are the ones who need it most. However, to build a sustainable practice, it might be best to ease into a meditation practice by starting with yoga. Not only do meditation and yoga share philosophy and intent, regular exercise can also improve muscle tone, flexibility, range of motion, appetite, sleep, and global health and wellness.
There are a variety of yoga styles to choose from based on your athletic ability and needs. A power class is faster paced and more aerobic, while a restorative or yin class will involve deeper stretching and improve your flexibility.
Deep breathing is a core component of both practices, and most yoga classes include a short meditation at the beginning or end, making it an ideal way to get acquainted and comfortable with the idea while also fitting in your daily exercise.
Meditation not only has the ability to change your perception, stress level and mindset, it also has the power to literally change your brain for the better with a minimal investment of time, money or effort. It’s a habit that even science agrees is worth developing for the sake of your soul and yourself. Set aside a few minutes a day to clear your mind, take deep breaths and build up your brain with mindfulness and meditation.