Step aside Marie Kondo...
This year, we're doing a different sort of "deep clean" for spring cleaning... for your brain.
If you're a longtime reader of mine, you know we've written a lot about meditation in the past. It's the best way to declutter your mind. And after more than two years of a global pandemic and inflation running amok, most of us need a simple way to destress and clear our heads...
Studies have shown regular meditation offers amazing health benefits. Things like...
Improving memory and decision-making. A 2011 study found polydrug users who completed a seven-week mindfulness-based meditation protocol were better at tests of working memory, response inhibition, and decision-making than those who did not complete the protocol.
Preventing and slowing neurodegenerative disease. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease compared people who practiced Kirtan Kriya meditation – a chanting meditation in the Kundalini yoga tradition – with those following a music-listening program. Researchers found those practicing meditation had better cognitive function, memory, and sleep, possibly leading to a lower risk of Alzheimer's.
Promoting neuroplasticity, better ability to focus, and lengthened attention span. A 2021 study found long-term meditation creates a long-term effect on the neuroplastic changes in the brain. This showed that meditation strengthens the communication pathways in the brain – and even carves out new ones.
Improving pain management and relief. A 2022 systematic review determined that compared with non-meditation intervention (including medication), meditation produced a significant decrease in pain and improved patient quality of life.
Reducing stress. Researchers in 2021 looked at participant blood-pressure levels to monitor meditation's effect on stress levels. As stress levels increase, so do blood-pressure readings. The researchers found that meditation decreases blood-pressure measures for folks with high blood pressure. However, the folks with normal blood-pressure levels were not affected.
Delaying the aging process. Meditation has a protective effect against cognitive decline and physiological aging. Earlier this year, researchers used electromagnetic tomography ("EEG") to study the brain waves of adults practicing Tai Chi. They found that long-term Tai Chi practice helps to synchronize the brain waves in such a way that it creates a delay in cognitive and physiologic aging.
Increasing kindness. A 2021 study in Taiwan looked at the effects of loving kindness meditation on doctors. The researchers measured mindfulness, empathy, and communication skills to see if meditating could make a positive impact on the way doctors interact with patients. They found that loving kindness meditation improved doctor empathy and communication levels.
Consistency is the key here. Regular meditation is much more important than spending a long time meditating whenever you get around to it. So here are our top three ways to make the most of your meditation...
1. Know your limits. Before you start a meditation program, make sure you consider the basics, fitness level, health conditions, and specific areas of concern. For example, if you have mobility issues, you'll want meditation that doesn't require much movement. And make sure you discuss this with an instructor if you plan to use one.
2. Don't follow instructions blindly. Guided and group meditation often utilize a setting in which many people are meditating at once. During your meditation, it's important to understand the proper ways to sit, breathe, and where to focus your attention. If you approach a meditation session without considering the guidelines you're to be following, then you won't be making the most of your efforts, or worse, you could injure yourself. A good rule of thumb... if something causes you serious discomfort or pain, don't do it.
3. Don't worry about doing it "right." I've heard from lots of folks that gave up meditation because they couldn't do it the right way...
"My mind kept wandering, Doc."
"I can't seem to sit still for more than a few minutes."
Don't let the pressure get to you. Meditation doesn't need to be perfect. And it's not one-size-fits-all. There are lots of different techniques you can try until you find what's right for you...
How to Get Started
The Body Scan
In yoga, doing the body-scan activity is a mindfulness technique. The body scan asks you to mentally check in with your body – starting with your feet and gradually moving all the way up to your head. While doing so, your aim is to notice and let go of any tension that you're holding in your body.
Performing a body scan is a physical form of mindfulness. Other physical mindfulness techniques include...
The Walking Meditation
Walk in a quiet place while focusing on the experience of walking. Become aware of the sensations of your feet connecting to the ground and the subtle movements you make to help you keep your balance. At some point in your walk, turn around. Notice all the muscles that engage and all the physical feelings you experience during your rotation.
Pick up an object or a food. Pretend that this object is one that you've never seen before. Examine how the object feels, smells, sounds, and even tastes. Can this object be manipulated with your hands? Bring your mind into the moment by focusing only on that object.
Five Senses Exercise
Notice the things you are experiencing with each of your five senses:
- Notice five things that you can see
- Notice four things that you can feel
- Notice three things that you can hear
- Notice two things that you can smell
- Notice one thing that you can taste
Taking an inventory of how your body feels is an important practice. So much of our lives is lived inside our processing minds. And when we're always living in our heads, it's easy to disconnect from – and therefore neglect – our bodies. Checking in makes a big difference.
Do you meditate? What's your favorite technique? If not, what's stopping you? We want to hear from you... [email protected].
What We're Reading...
- Mindful breathing meditation with Thích Nhất Hạnh (video).
- The science of meditation.
- Something different: Fruits and vegetables are less nutritious than they used to be.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
May 3, 2022