Happy New Year, everyone! 🙂 I just love the positive and exciting vibes surrounding the start of a new year- and even if some resolutions don’t last as long as we’d like them to, it never hurts to keep trying new ways to make ourselves into our “best versions”. SO in my last post (oops was that back in November?! Perhaps my next post should be on procrastination…) I shared 6 fantastic ways to boost your immune system– one of which was meditation. But meditation does more than “just” boost your immune system. In fact, it does so much that it has become a daily “can’t live without” for many. Seriously- even big corps like Google use it to help bring out the best in their employees and boost productivity (I’m not lyin, read for yourself!) And if it’s good enough for Google, gosh darn it, it’s good enough for me 😉
But in all seriousness, meditation is amazing. Researchers have known for awhile that it can help reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and lower blood pressure, but in the past few years it’s been found that meditating can actually change the structure of your brain. Let that sink in for a second- you can actually make the connections that exist between your neurons stronger or form new ones altogether. In a world where Alzheimer’s Disease is becoming rampant, I’d say that’s pretty freaking exciting!
There are many different ways to meditate, from zenning it up with mantras to mindful breathing exercises. With so many options, it’s easy to get overwhelmed- and that defeats the purpose of meditation- so here’s a breakdown of four meditation types that are (in my opinion) easiest to get you started:
Guided: any type of meditation can be guided- this simply means that you’re being led through the meditation by someone else. This helps keep you focused and the thoughts of “what the heck am I supposed to do” at bay. To get started, check out the guided meditations led by Dr. Brad Lichtenstein, ND, or look into these free guided meditation resources.
Mindfulness: for many people, meditation is difficult because it’s hard to focus and not let the mind wander. When practicing mindfulness, a little wandering is ok and even encouraged. In fact, allowing your mind to wander (termed non-directive meditation) fires up the part of the brain that allows us to process our thoughts and emotions, which is especially helpful if you’re feeling overwhelmed with life. Mindfulness is achieved simply by being in the moment without judgment- noticing the sensations in your body, the emotions you’re experiencing, what thoughts are running through your head. The key to this is the “without judgment” piece, which is sometimes easier said than done. This 20-minute mindfulness based body scan by Dr. Brad is a great start.
Focused Attention: similar to mindful meditation, focused attention is done by concentrating on one thing, be it a mantra, your breath, or the flame of a candle. This type is great for instilling a positive mantra in your day. My personal mantra for the new year is “The universe will provide me with all that I need; I am proud of how far I’ve come and have faith in how far I can go”; or try chanting some ancient Sanskrit mantras if that seems more your style. Another great intro into this type of meditation is focusing on your breath. Set a timer for 5 minutes, sit quietly and begin to zone in on your breathing- where does your breath originate from? Your belly or your chest? How long is your inhale? Your exhale? Do this until the timer goes off. If your mind wanders, that’s ok! Just bring your focus back to the breath.
Kirtan Kriya: say it with me- KEER-tun KREE-a- has its roots in Kundalini yoga and is one of the specific types of meditation studied for Alzheimer’s Disease. I wasn’t familiar with this type of meditation until I started writing this post, but I’ll definitely be giving this one a try. When done daily, this simple 12 minute routine has been shown to increase circulation to specific areas of the brain and thickens the prefrontal cortex, which decreases the rate of cognitive decline. For a great step by step guide, refer to the Alzheimer’s Prevention site.
The best meditation is the one you’re actually going to do regularly, since daily meditation is where we see the most benefit. Start with a simple 5 minute body scan per day and work up from there, or begin to incorporate mindfulness into daily activities like eating, exercising, or breathing.
Stay mindful and Sisu Tough, friends, and make this New Year the healthiest and happiest year yet! 🙂
*featured image courtesy of Scott Shigley via Christina Herppich