The final area of wellness that I will address here that is essential to living a long, healthy, happy life of vitality is developing and using a consistent meditation practice. Just as a reminder, the foundations of physical wellness that I have addressed so far are sleep, nutrition, and exercise/movement. The foundations of mental wellness that I have addressed here are the benefits of a strong social support, core relationships, remaining open-minded and curious, and the willingness to take on challenges and life-long learning.
Meditation offers health benefits that impact mind and body. Meditation addresses the stress response allowing us to access the relaxation response which creates increased mental wellness, creative expansion while releasing uncomfortable and non-useful thoughts and emotions.
Meditation is certainly not something new that I have talked about here! In fact, I’ve mentioned it over and over (as it is one of the primary ways that I keep myself sane) because I’ve see the direct impact that it can have on a variety of struggles for those that I work with, including anxiety, emotional eating, eating disorders, panic attacks, depression and limiting thoughts and beliefs—which directly impact the ability to take action. Meditation is one of the core practices that I have studied both in relation to my yoga studies along with all of the emerging research within the therapy, mental health and wellness world—and all of the benefits really are pretty vast and astounding.
When you are able to add in even just a small amount of meditation daily, you can have a tremendous return on your time investment in the way of health and wellness benefits. As little as five minutes a day can impact stress hormones, neurotransmitter production and circadian rhythms. Twelve minutes a day has shown an even greater impact such as improving telomere length of neurons in the brain (which indicates a younger brain!) increasing focus and concentration and decreased cognitive decline. Not to mention that meditation improves your self-awareness and reduces emotional reactivity which is one of the most valuable ways to improve the quality of your life on a daily basis.
There is often a lot of confusion about meditation. People tell me all the time, “I can’t meditate, I can’t get my mind to be quiet.” This is the primary misconception of meditation. The fact is that meditation is not about turning off your thoughts and sitting in perfect silence. I can tell you from experience that this is not what happens, and definitely not when you are just beginning the practice. Now maybe a long-long time meditator can silence their mind for long periods of time, but most of us have A LOT of thoughts constantly running through our minds. So let’s say that you generally have 100 thoughts a minute, and through a concentration and meditation practice you have 60. That will still feel like A LOT of thoughts, but it is still an improvement! With more practice maybe you’ll have 45 thoughts a minute, and with more 30, but again, that may still feel like a pretty active mind.
The purpose is not to silence your thoughts, the purpose is to distance yourself from the thoughts, to not be so reactive to the constant stream of emotionally provoking thoughts which may only cause stress and tension. In meditation you learn how to witness your thoughts rather than respond to them. This is the true practice, to recognize that you are not your thoughts and that they do not define you. Traditionally meditation is done in a seated posture and connecting with a single point of focus. This single point of focus could be your breath, a word or phrase, an image, a candle flame, or an image you create in your mind such as a sphere of light.
Mindfulness meditation is about being aware of all external and internal potential distractions, such as sounds, body sensations, thoughts and emotions and the mindfulness process invites you to simply notice them. You can even label them for exactly what they are. Here’s an example, as you sit and observe your internal and external space, if you hear the sound of a car, plane, ticking clock or someone talking, you simply label it as a sound rather than letting your mind consider the story of the sound. When you get into the story of the sound you will most likely evoke emotions and then thoughts, such as “ugg, that’s so annoying, I’m trying to meditate and that car keeps honking it’s horn.” That’s how we typically address annoyances in life, however mindfulness invites you see the honking just a sound, no thoughts or emotions necessary. Do you see how this may help improve your response to other potential annoyances in your life?
Meditation is allowing your mind to fully focus on one thing, and when you find you are distracted, you bring your focus back to that single point of awareness—that one thing. It really doesn’t matter so much what your point of focus is so long as you make a consistent effort to maintain it. Not judging your experience or getting involved in your emotions is helpful as well.
The most important element in order to reap the benefits of the practice is to be consistent. Daily is ideal, and even 1-15 minutes is great. If daily does not feel doable quite yet, you might start with 3 days a week and increase as you are ready. I am planning to roll out some support for those interested in a supportive community of beginning/skeptical/interested meditators in the fall! Stay tuned for updates! If you find you’d like some support getting started now, feel free to reach out. No matter how you start, try not to get caught up in the details, it is the experience and practice that matters most, not that you have the right chair, lighting, props or anything else!
If you have been implementing these eight areas of wellness that help support a long, healthy and happy life I’d love to hear how they are working for you!