You’re probably not surprised to hear that meditation begins with understanding your brain. The neo-cortex is divided into 4 lobes with the frontal lobes processing our most evolved human experiences such as morality, love, happiness, joy and intelligence. With the help of fMRI machines, neuroscientists have now proven that through meditation we actually create more neuronal activity in the frontal lobes and throughout the entire brain. What this means is that with a regular meditation practice, we can change the physiology of our brains and make the cortex thicker helping us to experience more serenity and love.
Another incredible byproduct of meditation is the slowing of cellular aging that occurs in the brain. What this translates into is proof that meditation actually slows down the aging process. As we age we lose grey matter in the brain, and studies have now proven that through meditation, we actually maintain more grey matter than non-meditators which stacks up to less grey matter loss and a younger brain.
Through the help of technology, neuroscientists have also proven that the Default Mode Network or DMN in the brain is slowed through meditation. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for mind wandering and ruminating or worrying about ones self. It has been shown that if a meditator does end up drifting off into worry it is easier for them to refocus and come back to reality as opposed to their non-meditating counterparts.
As far as depression goes, there have been studies done proving that a solid meditation practice may be as effective as some drugs. A study at Johns Hopkins showed that through meditation, many types of depression were treated as successfully as pharmaceuticals. Meditation is not a magic bullet, and be sure to check with your doctors before deciding to stop any medications you may be on for depression.
If there’s only one thing that you take away from this article, it is the understanding that it will greatly benefit you to sit and focus on your breath for at least 5 minutes a day to start. Eventually you want to work up to 20 minutes but it is best to start with shorter time periods so you don’t get discouraged. Find a quiet place where u wont be distracted, turn off your cell phone and computer, and let your loved ones know that you will not be available for the next 5 minutes or so. For your body position, you have options. Ideally, you will sit in lotus position with a cushion under your butt to raise your hips higher than your knees. If you can’t get into this position adjust it to suit your body so you are comfortable even if that means sitting in a stool. Sit up with a straight back and while keeping your head straight, maintain open eyes and look at the floor about 3 feet in front of you.
Once you have found your position and have your eyes focused, simply begin to breath in out of your nose and count your breaths 1 to 10 while you follow the air in and out of your lungs. Focus your mind on your breath to begin. When you get to 10, start over again at 1. Breathe normally, and if you lose count, just notice and come back to 1 again. Start out with once a day at 3 to 5 minutes, and when you are ready, add another session at night. From there you will work up to longer and longer sessions. I personally meditate every day for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 at night, which is where studies show we get bigger brain benefits. That said, you would get benefits at shorter intervals too.
By disciplining ourselves to sit and breath twice a day, we’re setting the stage to experience a more fulfilled life, and before you know it, your brain will actually start craving meditation. Most studies agree that 8 weeks in is when people really start to notice a difference and feel better and more patient, peaceful, and grateful.