It’s almost the end of June and I regret to say that my goal for May was not achieved. Though I’m not too regretful, because it’s really normal not to achieve all your goals straight up, and one goal a month for a year was a bit ambitious, wasn’t it?
For May, the goal was to start meditating regularly. Just a bit, say 15 minutes 3 times per week. I started off well for the first week then dwindled from there.
There are oodles of benefits to regular meditation. It can help reduce stress, increase physical health, manage chronic pain, make you sleep better and feel happier. The science behind what it does to the brain is also really impressive, and discussed in more detail below.
So if it’s so good for me……
What tripped me up?
In health coaching, a handy concept for setting a goal and using strategies that don’t end up working out is called “trial and error”.
You don’t always get it right the first time, and that’s completely normal. But going through the motions of trialling different strategies and reviewing what works and what doesn’t gets you one step closer to achieving what you set out to do. Give something a go, keep using the strategies that work and change the ones that don’t.
In my case, I put zero planning into it…..I think I’ll drop that strategy.
Having a phone app that talked me through the meditation worked well for me, as did keeping track of when I meditated. I’m far better with guided timed meditations then having to sit or lay silently. My mind is far too busy with over-thinking for that!
My preferred app is Smiling Mind, because it’s really user friendly and has some great science and support behind it….like Dr Andrew Rocheford, one of Smiling Minds Ambassadors. You know him? The dreamy doctor that sometimes presents on “The Project” with dimples from here to eternity?
Smiling minds is a web and app based tool with a fresh and modern approach to meditation. Their aim is to make meditation accessible to all ages, by offering free programs and guided mindfulness meditations from anywhere between one minute to 45 minutes. It is based on a type of meditation known as mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness is about being present in the moment, without judgement. It sounds cliche, but it is hugely beneficial. Mindfulness is now accepted as main stream in the health world. It means having moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, body sensations and surrounding environment. It also means paying attention without judging our thoughts or feelings, without thinking they are “right” or “wrong” or “good” or “bad”. It’s tuning in to what you’re sensing in that moment in time, rather than reliving the past or thinking about the future.
It’s certainly not easy, but over time, even little bits of meditation or mindfulness can have a huge affect on your well being and reduce worry and stress.
Why 15 minutes 3 times per week?
Firstly, because it seems like a manageable and realistic amount to start with, and secondly, because as science would have it, that’s all that’s needed to create changes to the brain.
Did you know you could make changes to your brain? Neither did science till recent years. It’s called neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity describes how our brain is a plastic, living organ that can change its structure and function, even in older age. Previously it was thought that our brains were hard-wired, but we now know our brains can be reshaped by our experiences and thoughts.
Regular meditation actually reduces the size of the part of the brain called the amygdala, which is associated with fear, worry distraction, feeling stuck, and the “fight or flight” response that kicks in during times of stress. It also strengthens brain connections that help with awareness, creativity, concentration and decision making. This leads to higher levels of compassion and happiness.
Like regular exercise can reshape your body, regular meditation can reshape your brain. Where we choose to focus our awareness determines which brain networks are strengthened or weakened or even lost.
So basically, the more time you spend in moments of meditation or calmness, the more you strengthen the brain networks associated with calmness, focus and clarity. Whereas the more you worry or get caught up in stress, the more you strengthen these networks. So worrying = more worry…..that’s worrying….
Now I’ve built a case for meditation, it’s just far too compelling for me not to give this goal another crack! This will be the goal for July. Meditation July doesn’t have the same ring to it as Meditation May, but by the end of the month, I should be so zen, I won’t even care.
Finally, do you love clicking? Are you click happy like me? I’m still caught up in the novelty of being able to add a hyperlink to a post. I also just learnt how to do it in Microsoft Excel two days ago. That’s a game changer my friend.
And here for more research, papers and case studies on mindfulness meditation from Smiling Mind.
Oh, and click here for an easy to follow you tube clip to explain neoroplasticity and meditation.