If you’re reading this, then you’re most likely a person who is, or at least aspires to be, physically healthy. Visiting a blog hosted by a studio called “Body In Balance” suggests you probably aim to eat relatively healthy and exercise regularly. Short and sweet: you care about the state of your physical body. But I’m willing to wager that most of you probably spend a lot less time and energy focusing on the state of your brains. No, this isn’t a guilt trip, or a sneaky way to insult anyone. It’s just an observation of our society in general.
For example: picture the health-related magazines lining the shelves at a grocery store checkout. What do they say? “Is Your Brain Firing On All Cylinders?” No. They say, “16 Ways to Lose Weight NOW!” Or, “How To Have Your Sexiest Body Yet!” We’re constantly bombarded with reminders that our bodies need care and attention. But while our brain spends all of this time thinking about our bodies . . . it ends up neglecting itself.
It’s kind of a ludicrous concept, isn’t it? Our brains. The center of all physical function. And we jump straight to the physical without ever addressing the roots of it all.
Let me be clear that a healthy physical lifestyle is AWESOME and super important. But, in the true spirit of health & balance, I want to dedicate a post to the ring master of it all—the human brain.
One of the greatest ways to improve brain health and function (as well as overall health) is by regularly practicing meditation. Through yoga I’ve been introduced to the magic of meditation, and I have personally experienced some serious health benefits in the process.
If you’ve never practiced mediation before, you probably have some assumptions regarding what it is. Most of the time, the assumptions I hear are inaccurate. Before I began learning about and practicing meditation, I was completely mislead and believed meditation was something very different from what it actually is. So first, let’s talk about what meditation isn’t:
TO DESTROY THE MYTH: Meditation is NOT a practice in which the goal is to “have no thoughts.” That’s an unattainable and, if I may, LUDICROUS goal. If you somehow managed to accomplish this goal and you stopped thinking, how on Earth could you start again?? I’d like not to be responsible for the no-longer-responsive brains of our readers. It’s wonderful to have thoughts. Please always have thoughts!
To talk about what Meditation IS, I’m going to avoid going in depth into the many many different styles of meditation. I think for the purposes of this introduction to meditation, it is safe for me to give a general explanation as to what meditation is. So: meditation is a practice of mindfulness and awareness. Typically in meditation, the idea is to challenge the mind to focus on one thing. For example, arguably the most common item of focus in meditation is the breath. During the practice a person would challenge him or herself to keep their awareness on their breath, rather than follow a list of to-dos or things that bothered them at the office yesterday. You may also be familiar with the common image of some dude sitting cross-legged in front of a candle. In this case, a person may be using the flame of a candle as their focal point and the challenge is to keep their awareness there. One of my favorites is to use a mantra, such as the famous “Om” or a short phrase that you enjoy repeating silently to yourself. A common one I present in my yoga classes is “Just this,” challenging my students to focus on a phrase that reminds them to be in the present moment and set all other responsibilities aside until the appropriate moment to deal with them later. To break the myth that yoga and meditation are not practices that are safe or agreeable to people of Christian faith, I have a friend whose mantra is “God is love,” and she continually repeats that phrase to herself during her meditation practice. So the mantra can be whatever you like, but it’s best to keep it short and obviously to avoid some sort of question which would cause you to drift into many thoughts on the subject.
There is a line in the movie Eat Pray Love where someone says, “You have to be able to choose your thoughts the same way you choose your clothes in the morning.” That is what regular meditation allows you to do. It allows you to take a deep breath and let go of the fury you feel toward that miserable soul who just cut you off in the middle of I-64 rush hour traffic. It allows you to focus on the incredible joy you feel when you’re outside on a beautiful day with people you love, and let that joy resonate loudly without being clouded with other unrelated thoughts or worries. And these are just simple examples of the benefits of meditation.
I found a fantastic article and infographic about some of the physical benefits of meditation that I’d really like to share. If you want to view it (trust me, you want to) follow this link.
If you’ve never tried it, I dare you to try for just one week. Five minutes each day. Don’t judge yourself during the process; if your thoughts wander, that’s natural. Just become aware that you’ve wandered and guide your attention back to whatever you decided to focus on during your meditation. Once you give it a try, tell us if you’ve noticed any changes!
If you have any questions, please don’t ever hesitate to reach out and ask! Also, if all else fails: the smell of chocolate increases theta brain waves, which triggers relaxation. So if everything else is just too stressful . . . sniff Godiva.