Taking time to meditate might sound like a luxury — but it may be as important for your well-being as pounding the treadmill or eating broccoli. And you don’t have to block off lots of time, either. Setting aside just a few minutes a day can improve your focus, and calm your mind and body.
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If you’re a meditation skeptic, take a look at these four meditation myths that could (literally) change your mind.
Meditation myth #1: You have to practice at least 20 minutes every day
Do you have a minute? Great! Then you have time to meditate.
“When I first started, I used a one-minute mindfulness meditation. Breathe in for five seconds, then breathe out for five seconds. That’s your warm-up. Then repeat for one minute. It’s that simple, and you can work up from there,” says preventive medicine physician Roxanne Sukol, MD, MS.
Meditation myth #2: You need to clear your mind
Can’t get your to-do list out of your head? It’s OK if it keeps coming back, says Dr. Sukol.
The goal of meditation is not to clear your mind of all thought. The goal is to return to the breath. Each time you discover your mind has wandered, return it to the breath. That is how your mind learns to benefit from meditation.
Think of thoughts like commercials. They grab your attention — sometimes obnoxiously so — but then they pass, and you’re back to crying your eyes out watching “This Is Us.” When you’re meditating and get distracted by a thought, like those TV commercials, return your attention to your breath. You’ll increase your awareness of the present moment, helping you find calmness and balance.
Meditation myth #3: It doesn’t do anything
It’s true, meditation doesn’t do one thing for you — it does a whole lot. Research suggests that meditation appears to boost whole-body wellness. (And who couldn’t use some whole-body love?)
Soothe your genes. Mind-body exercises like meditation target the genes related to stress and inflammation, reducing the levels of both in the body. As Dr. Sukol says, “There’s some sound research showing meditation changes how genes are expressed in your body — and it happens pretty quickly, too.”
Blood flow. “Studies show that blood circulation in the brain and other organs improves during meditation,” says Dr. Sukol. “Meditation has long-term benefits for certain organs, especially the brain.” Increased blood circulation gets more oxygen and nutrients to every cell in your body, helping them to perform better. Getting that blood flowing could help you get through some of those stressful moments — whether it’s a tough client call or taking your toddler shoe shopping.
Brain function. Several studies suggest meditation affects every part of your brain. Almost all of our thoughts and actions result from different sections of the brain working together, so meditation can really help get your brain humming.
Other research indicates that mindfulness practices cause changes in the brain’s attention-related networks, improving your ability to focus on a task.
Psychological stress. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce aspects of psychological stress, including anxiety and depression. In our chaotic, fast-paced lives, managing stress is a must for better health.
Meditation myth #4: There’s only one way to meditate
Meditation comes in all shapes and sizes, including mindfulness, Zen and Transcendental Meditation®. The trick is finding what works best for you, then practicing where and when you can. It isn’t going to be an earth-shattering, ultra-Zen experience every time you practice.
And you don’t have to stick with one type of meditation ― play around until you find one you like, or use a combination of techniques. You can even use several types of meditation during one session. “The only question should be, ‘Does this work for me?’” says Dr. Sukol. “If not, it’s easy to find something that does.”
Dr. Sukol advises taking a broad approach to meditation: “You can meditate in your car before leaving for work, while your children nap or even while you’re washing the dishes.” Try to find a few minutes during your day to develop your meditation skills.
You’ll be joining the 18 million American adults who use meditation to boost health and focus the mind. And you just may find that meditation gives you a little sanity in a sometimes crazy world.