(image credit: Omid Armin)
Meditation, ah yes, the trending hashtag of life right now. Want to slide into the elite club of the wealthy? Meditate. Desperate to sound sophisticated? Meditate. Trying to remember why you walked into a room? Well... meditation might not help with that, but it’s apparently the duct tape for everything else in life. But, why?
Now, meditation, we describe it as a good stretch after a nice brain workout, otherwise known as work. Here is the mechanics of it:
- Physical: When you exercise, you place stress on your muscles. This causes tiny microtears in muscle fibers. It's a necessary stress to stimulate growth, but it needs to be followed by proper recovery.
Cognitive: When you're actively thinking and trying to solve a puzzle, you're exerting your cognitive "muscles." This mental "workout" stimulates neural pathways, encouraging synaptic activity and plasticity. Your work is surely part of this workout routine. Just like physical exercise, this cognitive stress is beneficial but needs periods of rest for optimal results.
Cool Down (Meditation):
- Physical: After a workout, the body needs time to repair the microtears in the muscles. Proper rest, nutrition, and hydration support this repair process.
Cognitive: After intense thinking sessions, the brain benefits from periods of rest or shifts in focus. Meditation serves as a cognitive "cool-down," offering the mind a break from the active problem-solving state. Instead of being passively distracted but the world, you are giving your brain some room to breath and stretch. Just as cool-down is crucial for physical gains, meditation (or other forms of cognitive rest) is essential for mental well-being and clarity.
- Physical: During deeper stages of sleep, the body releases growth hormone, which facilitates the repair and growth of muscles. This is when the actual "gains" in muscle size and strength occur.
- Cognitive: Sleep is the brain's primary mode of recovery. As previously mentioned, processes like memory consolidation, synaptic homeostasis, and creative problem-solving are amplified during sleep. The "gains" here are insights, strengthened memory, and improved cognitive functions.
Now the question is, what exactly is meditation?
Meditation is old. Like, really old. It's been around in various forms and cultures, mostly for reaching enlightenment, and some people are still on that journey. That might be why meditation has had a different rep to start with. But for those of us just looking for ways to boost our performance and balance life, we're borrowing a page from the Buddhist playbook and only focus on that: Mindfulness Meditation.
Essentially, it's about getting a grip on our minds as much as possible because, let’s face it, our minds are worst and not to be trusted, it's always that voice that says, just 10 more minutes after you stopped the alarm and just only one more beer. Buddhist meditation is essentially a way to tell our brain to zip it and behave.
I am convinced, now what?
Now, of course is to get started. Here is our Meditate Crash Course:
Minimize distractions as much as possible.
Meditating at the same time each day can help establish a routine.
Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Keep your back straight and your hands resting on your lap or by your side.
Consider lifting weights: Some do it just because they like it, while others have a mission to sculpt specific muscles. Similarly with meditation, you might do it for a simple quiet moment or have a clear goal, like defusing stress. Reason for setting goal (intention) is, without it, it's easy to drift. You could end up wandering mentally, much like aimlessly roaming the gym. The result? A less effective session and missed opportunities for deeper growth. Intention is your compass, ensuring each session has direction and depth.
Pace: Pay attention to the rhythm of your breath. Notice the inhale, the pause, and the exhale. This rhythm becomes your mental 'step'.
Sensation: Feel the cool air entering your nostrils or mouth, the rise and fall of your chest or abdomen, and the warmer air as you exhale. It's akin to feeling the treadmill belt beneath your feet.
Staying On Track: If your mind starts wandering (and it will), just like you'd realign your steps on a treadmill, gently bring your focus back to your breathing without judgment.
Duration: Just as you'd set a duration for a treadmill workout, decide beforehand how long you want to focus on your breath during meditation. It could be as short as 5 minutes to start.
When you notice your mind wandering, don’t get frustrated. Simply acknowledge the thought and return your focus to your breath.
Begin with 5-10 minutes and gradually increase your time as you feel more comfortable.