The word meditation can immediately conjure images of Buddhist monks in saffron robes or new-age beatniks in clouds of incense — which isn’t necessarily untrue. Buddhists have long known the benefits meditation has on the body, mind and soul, which may be even more relevant today in our constantly connected, busy world. Meditation has been shown to increase gray matter in the brain — particularly in areas associated with muscle control, sensory perception, memory, emotions and speech. A study conducted by the Laboratory for the Neuroscientific Investigation of Meditation and Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital found that people who meditated at least 30 minutes a day for eight weeks increased gray matter density in their hippocampus — the part of the brain associated with learning and memory. MRI brain scans on the participants (10 female and six male with a mean age of 38) also showed reduced gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. Regular mindfulness may even slow age-related thinning of the frontal cortex, which means less forgetfulness over the years. There are also many ways meditation improves quality of life that can’t be as objectively tested.
Mindful meditation, also called vipassana, is the heart of Buddhist meditation and the most widely practiced form in Southeast Asia. To begin the practice of mindful meditation, find a quiet room with few sensory distractions.
Then close your eyes and connect with your breath by focusing on your breathing without trying to direct it; just pay attention to its natural movement. Sharon Salzberg, cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society, says you could actually choose any object of awareness (a sound, an image, a mantra) to rest your attention on, and gently return to it whenever your mind wanders. During your meditation, you may experience feelings of frustration, boredom, fear, anxiety, pain or anger — this is all normal. The key is not to bring “the burden of intense self-judgment into the practice with you,” says Salzberg. As you continue your practice and develop an ability to settle more with the breath, Salzberg says you should apply the same calm, interested attention to a range of things you experience.


Whatever level you’re at, but especially when you’re just beginning, it’s important to practice every day. Although it might sound easy, meditation is in fact hard work and it takes a lot of practice to get better. Similar to how we do bicep curls to develop our arms, meditation tones and strengthens the mind.
Only recently have scientific studies been able to delineate the effects it has on the brain, including stress reduction, improved attention and productivity, better memory and even increased creativity and feelings of compassion.
Though there is yet to be a happiness barometer, anecdotal evidence suggests meditation can impact how you approach life, how you react to things, and how you interact with others. It emphasizes mindfulness and develops an awareness that is carried into every aspect of your daily experience. Set a timer for five minutes (or 10, or 15 — it doesn’t matter) and sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair. Your breath is your anchor to the present moment and will guide you back when your mind wanders off in thought.
Count one breath in, one breath out, and continue through 10 breaths, then return to one again. You’ll begin to become hyperaware of the state of your body — the tensions it carries, its energy, its pain — and sensations that your busy life may have kept you from noticing previously. This form uses phrases of friendliness to evoke genuine feelings of love and compassion toward yourself, your loved ones, strangers and even your enemies. Zen Habits blogger, Leo Babauta, stresses the importance of forming the habit by beginning with just two minutes a day. But just like training for a marathon or playing an instrument, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.


In some cases, it can allow you to see things more clearly (including yourself), fill you with a sense of calm, and help you to better deal with the variegated demands of the modern world. Some refer to it as “the art of living” — awakening from autopilot, discovering the true self, being present, and finding the capacity to live more wisely, more lovingly and more fully.
Buddhist monk and meditation teacher Jack Kornfield says to “sit with the quiet dignity of a king or queen.” Just remember, keep the body upright, but not uptight. This process helps connect your mind to your breath, especially when thoughts can sometimes break your concentration. You could watch the flicker of a candle flame, or chant the popular mantra, “om.” Experiment until you find what suits you. You may get caught up in expectations of what your experience should be, or doubt that you’re “doing it right.” Todd Goldfarb, blogger and social entrepreneur at Worldwide Tipping Point and We the Change, says to throw those ideas out and simply practice observing what arises in each moment.
In the same way you’ve focused attention on your breath, you’ll be able to gently move that focus to this tension and release it. And just think, in as little as two minutes, a happier outlook can be yours for the taking. The point is not to prevent your mind from straying, but rather, bring it back to the present when it does.



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