Meditation Boost your Health

“Your thoughts are incredibly powerful. Choose yours wisely.”
– Joe Dispenza, You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter

I’m sitting in my hotel room, listening to the river running over rocks outside the window and reflecting on what I’ve just experienced. Less than five minutes ago, I was lying on a yoga mat on the floor of a conference room with hundreds of other people, doing something pretty incredible for a group that size: meditating. I’ve spent the past five days at a workshop with renowned meditation guru and author Dr. Joe Dispenza, perfecting a specific form of meditation that combines unique breathwork, focused attention, and manifestation. There isn’t a particular form of meditation Dr. Joe uses, but rather a mixture of methods he has found to be the most effective at training the brain, referred to only as “the formula.” Dispenza has a working partnership with the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), in which they study the brain, blood, and microbiome of meditators to prove the health effects of meditation and that it can prevent sickness by strengthening the immune system.

The effectiveness of Dispenza’s formulaic approach was recently backed up by science in a paper published in October of this year. The paper proves that advanced meditators are less likely to get sick from viral infections, and if they do get sick, they recover more quickly and with less severe symptoms. The science is complex and fascinating, but the best news is you don’t have to attend a week-long retreat to reap the benefits of a mindfulness practice.

As groundbreaking as the science behind mindfulness and meditation is, it simply backs up what Eastern practitioners have touted for thousands of years. Having a personal meditation or mindfulness practice can impact your mental health significantly, especially during these darker months of the year. On the 21st of December, the Northern Hemisphere will have its winter solstice (the shortest daylight hours of the year). These darker days of winter mean a lack of the vital brain and mood-regulating nutrient vitamin D. This scarcity of vitamin D often means an uptick in mood disorders such as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, an aptly named diagnosis. If you or a loved one are prone to mood disorders or depression, or if you’re not a big fan of the holidays for whatever reason, there is hope and relief to be found by adopting one of these methods and practicing it regularly.

Meditation and mindfulness are very similar in definition and application but with a few subtle differences. Meditation is the specific act of sitting in silent reflection, focusing the mind on a single object (visualization) or thought (mantra) to calm the mind and body. Mindfulness is the practice of noticing what is. It can be as simple as remembering to take a deep breath instead of shouting expletives while stuck in traffic or really tasting and savoring each bite of food at mealtimes. Both practices focus the mind and calm the body. Meditation takes practice and some effort, but mindfulness can be done in simple ways throughout your day. Both tools help the practitioner slow down, feel more gratitude and less anxiety, and bring a sense of well-being.

Traditionally, the winter months were a time of slowing down, going inward, and taking a much-needed respite from the toils of the growing season. We are no longer an agrarian society, but our biology still responds and reflects these seasonal cycles. In our fast-paced, modern society, it is all too easy to keep working away, overscheduling ourselves or our children, and feeling the need to constantly rush around, even during the darkest days of the year. If you find yourself in need of a slow-down, there are ways to implement the tools of meditation and/or mindfulness without sacrificing your to-do list. It may, however, mean you need to intentionally create a thirty-minute space in your day, preferably in the morning hours, to find that slow quiet.

There are myriad health benefits to taking this time to slow down and reflect. Multiple studies have found that intentionally focusing on the present moment has a positive impact on our health and well-being. Being present to what is has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, and even improve the quality of sleep and lower blood pressure.

Neuroscience researchers have linked mindfulness practices to suppressed amygdala activity while increasing communication between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. These two regions of the brain are responsible for our reactions to stress (amygdala) and how quickly we recover from the experience that led to the stress in the first place (prefrontal cortex processing). It sounds complicated, but the takeaway is that meditation and mindfulness reduce stress and improve mood. And that is always a positive thing.

If the science or practices of meditation or mindfulness sound too abstract, you can start with a simple gratitude practice. Sitting down in quiet reflection and writing down a list of ten or more things you are sincerely thankful for has also been proven to improve mood and overall satisfaction with life. My family recently implemented this by starting a daily gratitude journal. Every night before bed, we take turns writing down one thing each person is grateful for that day. This one simple act not only adds a moment of joyful communication between family members but it also allows us to pause and reflect on our day and feel hopeful for tomorrow. Even if the day was long and difficult, finding one thing to be thankful for helps us feel that the day was indeed a good one. Gratitude is a powerful tool and, not surprisingly, is, in fact, a form of mindfulness.

You don’t need to invest large amounts of time or money to reap the benefits of mindfulness or meditation. Try setting a timer or find a spare notebook around your house and start your practice today. Small, simple steps can reap great long-term health benefits. Remember: meditation is a practice, not a destination. No one perfects it the first time they try. With regular practice, you’ll be able to meditate for longer amounts of time, which compounds the benefits. Keep at it!

Looking for a simple way to get started?

step ① Find a quiet place, where you won’t be interrupted and set a timer

for five to ten minutes.

step ② Some people find playing calming meditation music helpful, especially when they are first learning.

step ③ Sit back on a chair, or a cushion on the floor, with your back supported and your head held upright (to resist the urge to sleep).

step ④ Set an intention for your meditation (peace, gratitude, breathe in – breathe out, or anything else you can easily focus on).

step ⑤ Gently close your eyes and let your body relax.

step ⑥ Bring your awareness to the space behind your eyes, and let your jaw relax.

step ⑦ Scan your body, head to feet, noticing where you might be holding any tension, and focus on relaxing those areas.

step ⑧ Breathe deeply and easily in and out through your nose.

step ⑨ Practice noticing thoughts that come into your mind, but not judging them. Simply acknowledge them, and then let them float away like leaves in a river.

Repeat this step as often as you need until the timer ends.

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