Years ago I was taught how to meditate by a guy I was dating and I did it faithfully for many years. I got pretty good at it, but as time went on I did less and less of it, and when I was under extreme stress, I did even less.
Recently, though I have started this practice again after reading some medical research on how mindfulness meditation changes the actual brain itself, helps reduce pain, stress, depression, anxiety and other painful emotions.
Previous research has shown that mindfulness meditation could have a positive effect on the brain by decreasing the density of the grey matter in the brain’s amygdala, which is a brain region known for its role in stress. That study was conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital researchers and published in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging in 2011.
The study included PTSD patients recruited from a VA outpatient clinic. Some of them were put in groups that underwent the eight-week mindfulness-based cognitive therapy treatment program, while the others received typical PTSD treatment. Their symptoms were measured before and after the eight-week treatment regimens. The mindfulness-based cognitive therapy included learning how to do mindfulness meditation (focus on emotions and breath), “body scanning” (focusing attention on individual body parts) and mindful eating.
By the end of the regimens, researchers found that more people who underwent the mindfulness therapy had improvements in PTSD symptoms than those who just underwent the standard PTSD treatment — 73 percent, versus 33 percent.
While mediation has been a practice of several different religious groups, such as the Buddhists, meditation does not have to be a part of any religious practices, but can be totally secular in nature.
There are many articles and books written on how to practice meditation and mindfulness but it is actually very simple. Sitting relaxed in a chair or lying down, you focus your attention on the sensations of your breathing. Just breathe in and out and focus on the physical feeling of your breath coming into and out of your body. If a stray thought about something else comes into your mind, don’t try to force it away, just let it “flow on through” and go back to focusing on your breathing.
Since it is difficult for me to turn off my “internal diaglog” or the thoughts and the constant “talking” we do inside our head, as I breathe I say “One” on the first in breath and the word “and” and then the next breath in I say to myself “two” and then and and so on until I reach four and, then I start over. This helps to keep me from having “stray” thoughts, but when they do creep in, I just let them float on through and refocus my mind on my breathing.
Even ten minutes a day has been shown to help memory, calm stress and decrease depression.
There are many books, CDs and tapes that you can buy that will help guide you to work on mediation that meets your specific needs. I highly recommend mediation and intend to continue to practice this very easy and helpful practice. Since I have been practicing mediation again, my stress level has decreased remarkably, my depression decreased and my sense of peace and happiness has greatly increased. I no longer live in fear of the future, but focus more on the moment I am in. I also don’t live in the past either, so being in the “now” is a healthy alternative to stressing myself out over things I can’t change.