What a busy year 2019 has been. We’ve walked 10,000 steps daily, started a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fresh vegetables, lean meats, and olive oil, and taken a moment to learn some of the body’s vital health numbers (blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol). Now, after all of that, it’s time…to do nothing! Yes, you read that right, time to do NOTHING.
Chronic stress can worsen existing health problems. Stress triggers increase levels of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol production causes many of the harmful effects that can result in difficulties sleeping, high blood pressure, increased anxiety and depression. In one study, mindfulness meditation – which is a mental training practice that involves focusing your mind on your experiences (like your own emotions, thoughts, and sensations) in the present moment – resulted in a significant reduction in the inflammatory responses caused by stress. Mindfulness meditation can involve breathing practice, mental imagery, awareness of body and mind, and muscle and body relaxation. The positive effects of mindfulness was strongest in individuals with the highest levels of stress. The more stressed you are, the more meditation may help to reduce your stress.
As it turns out, spending a few minutes each day doing nothing, more specifically practicing mindfulness and meditation, can help decrease blood pressure, decrease anxiety, improve sleep, lower chances of depression, and may even reduce age-related memory loss and reshape and improve our brains. All by doing nothing, simply taking the time to be still or practice meditation.
Clinical studies suggest that meditation might slow, stall, or even reverse changes in the brain due to aging. Imagine being able to reverse the effects of aging on your brain by doing nothing? Today’s world is hectic. It should be no surprise that reducing daily stress is one of the most common reasons people meditate.
Meditation is a mind and body practice that has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation. According to a new report based on 2017 National Health Interview Survey data, the use of meditation among U.S. adults tripled between 2012 and 2017.
While there are many types of meditation, they all share a few common points. Meditation is performed best in a quiet location, a comfortable position, and with a focus of attention. Some people will use a specially chosen word, a set of words, an object, or their breath. The key is an open attitude and being okay with letting distractions come and go naturally.
Many people think they are too busy to meditate, unable to sit still and quietly for ten minutes, or incapable of quieting their mind long enough to meditate. This is often the case for beginners – until they realize the benefits they get in return for doing nothing.
How to meditate: Simple Breathing Techniques for Beginners
- Sit or lie comfortably. Close your eyes.
- Breathe naturally making no effort to “control” your breath. Gently turn your attention to your breath, how your body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Feel and notice the movement of your body as you breathe. Focus your attention on your breath without controlling its pace or intensity. If your mind wanders, acknowledge whatever came into your mind, let it go, then return your focus back to your breath.
- Inhale for four counts. As you relax, begin to breath in through your nose and gently breathe filling your stomach with air (most of us in a busy day will take shallow breaths through our chest). As you inhale, think, “I am inhaling.” On the exhale, think to yourself, “I am exhaling” and exhale through your mouth.
Try these easy-to-follow techniques for 10-15 minutes, slowly work your way up to 20 minutes and so on. With practice, you can incorporate mindfulness meditation into your daily routine.
There are many meditation apps available. These apps can guide you through meditation and help you make the most out of doing nothing. A few of the more popular meditation apps are Calm, The Mindfulness App, and Headspace.
Thankfully, everyone has the opportunity to practice mindfulness at any moment. Mindful practice does not require money or an app or anything at all. The simple steps to practicing mindfulness is to pause, be in the moment and breathe. Ahh.