4 Reasons to Get Your “Om” On Right Now

Article posted in: Lifestyle

If you’re someone who balks at meditation, it may be time to rethink your position. Because in a world that always wants you to do more, think more, be more, the key to having all that—AND more—may be to do… nothing.

Meditation can be hard to start because we’re trained to always be thinking of the next thing. But being aware of where you are and what’s around you can improve your psychology, your health and your attitude. This will better equip you to achieve all that stuff (or just to chill out about it). Here are four science-backed reasons you should start meditating, and some tips for getting started:

1. Meditation can boost your brainpower.

Scientists analyzed MRI data in multiple studies and found that meditators had bigger brains. In one study, 22 meditators ranging in experience from five to 46 years of meditation practice were compared to 22 non-meditators. The meditators were found to have a significantly larger right hippocampus. The meditators also had significantly more gray matter in the right orbito-frontal cortex. And size does matter: Both of these areas are the brain are associated with emotional regulation and response control.

2. It can make you happier.

When participants in a recent study combined low-intensity walking with a simple meditation, they enjoyed significant decreases in anxiety and decreased negative feelings about themselves. What they did was easy: The group was asked to count their foot steps as “one, two, one, two,” as their feet hit the ground, visualizing the numbers in their mind. When their minds began to wander, they were told not to calmly return to counting. And in case you think it was just the walk that made them feel good, study participants who walked without meditating did not experience the same levels of anxiety reduction.

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3. It can make you more creative.

In a 2012 study, scientists in the Netherlands and North Dakota found that people who are mindful of the present were better at coming up with creative solutions to problems. Because they were more attuned to the present—and by extension, less attuned to their past experience—these mindful study participants were less tied to those past experiences when faced with “insight” problem-solving. (“Insight problem-solving” is just a fancy term that means coming up with a new idea or direction).

Being in the present, or being mindful, is the core of many meditation practices. To try a mindfulness meditation of your own, start by sitting with your back straight and eyes closed, breathing in and out naturally through your nose. Bring your focus solely on the physical sensations of breathing, such as how your chest rises and falls, or the feeling of the air on your upper lip as you breathe in and out. Notice other parts of your body that move, or other physical sensations you’re feeling. Other thoughts may pop up and threaten to distract you—like what’s on your phone, for instance. Try to notice yourself being distracted and return to thinking about the sensations of breathing without scolding yourself.

If you can’t make five to 10 minutes in this way, try counting your breaths much as the walkers in the study counted their steps. As you breathe in, visualize the word “one” and say it in your mind. As you breathe back out, do the same with the word “two.” Count up to 20, then repeat.

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4. Meditation before bed can lead to sounder slumbers.

Insomnia patients who used a mindfulness meditation before bed increased their total sleep time, and reduced the amount of time they spent lying awake each night. So instead of spending an hour on your phone—an activity that not only negatively impacts your sleep, but may also increase your risk of premature death—try a simple mindfulness meditation (like the one described above) while seated on the edge of your bed just before sleeping.