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How Real is the Hype Around Meditation?

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The Internet is bursting with buzzwords like “mindfulness” and “zen,” but what’s all the hype? It’s trendy now, but meditation is a thousand-year-old practice that encompasses hundreds of techniques to refocus and soothe your mind. There are plenty of benefits if you allow yourself to discover what works for you, which may be as simple as closing your eyes and breathing.

Meditation Reduces Stress

Everyone manages stress differently. You might take a spa day or binge-watch a television series. Even if you have your go-to method, there’s always room for another tool in your box.

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Believe it or not, 20 minutes of meditation chemically rewires your brain. People with clinically-determined levels of anxiety and depression found meditation to be effective in reducing their symptoms. Better coping mechanisms mean you can take on stressful situations without burdening your body.

High stress levels lead to numerous health problems, but reducing stress combats health concerns like high blood pressure, hormonal imbalances, and insomnia. For example, many insomniacs report stress as the primary source for restlessness. Meditation allows the brain to release irksome thoughts and get to sleep. It’s also proven as effective as medications like Lunesta for falling and staying asleep.

Inflammation is another stress response. It’s responsible for everything from joint pain, to migraines, to fatigue. Luckily, meditation helps reduce inflammation and water retention throughout the body. Studies suggest that overall stress reduction leads to a decrease in pain and lowered body weight from inflammation. These are serious benefits without a prescription.

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Meditation Improves Focus

Everyone is busy. The grandparents, kids, and even pets are busy these days. While there’s nothing wrong with being busy, always being busy isn’t ideal for your body. If you’re struggling to do it all, meditation won’t only sharpen your mind— it’ll also allow you to prioritize your goals to tackle tasks more quickly.

Brain teasers, brain food, and brain supplements are all the rage lately, but why? It’s because people find it increasingly difficult to sit down and focus. There’s always something buzzing, beeping, or humming that needs our attention. Sticking to a task is hard. Instead, you multi-task everything, complete nothing, and repeat it tomorrow. Meditation breaks the cycle by allowing your mind to let go. It takes everything off the table, then cleans and resets your mind so that you can work more efficiently.

How does the brain become more efficient? The science behind meditation shows improved emotion and memory regulation in the gray and white matter areas of the brain. Studies showed that ten minutes of meditation per day helps the brain use less energy to block out distracting stimuli. In short, you magnify your brain’s ability to focus, which gives you more energy and free time throughout your day.

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Meditation Takes Time

“If time is money and meditation takes time, does that mean meditation is a waste of money?” Okay, so this probably wasn’t your thought process, but many people think meditation takes too much time. The misguided image of meditation is picturing a man on a rock chanting “om” for hours. You think you can reply to emails, paint the office, and re-tile the bathroom in the amount of time it takes to meditate “properly.” In reality, meditation can be done anywhere, anytime.

Where do you find the time? Some of the world’s most successful people attribute their accomplishments to their morning routine, which almost always includes meditation. Give yourself five minutes in the morning to breathe. If your mornings are hectic, look for gaps of alone time like subway commutes, after dropping the kids off, or even the elevator ride to your office.

If that still doesn’t work, try swapping out one habit for meditation. Instead of scrolling through Facebook after lunch, try working in a quick meditation session. You’ll be surprised how much time you dawdle away throughout the day.

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Types of Meditation

Meditating on your subway commute? It’s not as crazy as it sounds. When you expand your horizons, you’ll find there’s more than one way to meditate. The incredible part of meditation is that you can customize it to whatever your needs are at that moment.

Mindfulness

When parents say “mind your manners,” they mean to be aware of how you act. Mindfulness practice is being aware of the present moment without judgment. There’s no good or bad, there just is. Allow thoughts to flow by without labels. It’s versatile and can be practiced almost anywhere with your eyes open or closed.

Focused

Take a deep breath in. Now, exhale. Focused meditation means just that— focusing on one element, whether it’s your breathing, thoughts, heartbeat, or emotions. Focused practice is ideal for beginners who need a little help with a noisy mind. It’s also perfect for restoring balance where you may be lacking. You can meditate on confidence before an important presentation to convey confidence in the room. The possibilities are endless.

Illustration of Om word PHOTO: MIRIAMA TANECKOVA/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

Mantra

Words matter. Like it or not, everyone complains. It’s easy to vent about inconveniences with friends, but it’s not effective. Mantras— repeated words or sounds— are potent tools to bring out positive habits in your life. The repetition of sound keeps you focused, allowing your mind to filter out distractions. Although I find this practice to be most useful out loud, you can repeat your mantra in your head if you’re on the subway.

Summary

While I agree that the hype around meditation can be intimidating, the practice and benefits have been around for centuries. You don’t need an entire weekend in the wilderness or a cabinet full of essential oils either. Meditation is a practice between you, your mind, and your body, which means you can decide the rules. I challenge you to explore what meditation works best for you. There’s no downside, and you can reap the health benefits in the process.

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