Keep reading for a Access to a Stress Busting Meditation!
Tired of Forgetfulness and Brain Fog? Try Meditating…
Meditation improves your memory and re-grows your pre-frontal cortex. Here’s How
Have you ever had a day like this?…
Overtired, you pushed the snooze button a few too many times this morning. Eventually you peel your eyes open… and leap out of bed in a mad panic to get out the door.
Skipping a (much needed) shower, there’s still no time to make the kids a healthy lunch, so you toss them cash and pray they’ll find something reasonable to eat… while silently calculating the money you just blew on cafeteria food.
Agitated and frustrated, you jump into the car to find you’re almost out of gas. You pull out of the driveway, cursing your husband for not filling the tank last night… and continue cursing every other driver on the road as you inch through the late morning traffic.
By the time you get to work, you’re already frazzled and your blood pressure is sky high. And of course that Sally who’s always just so cheerful is extra chatty this morning. (Doesn’t she have work to do, like the rest of us?)
You breeze by her as fast as possible, wishing you could hang a “Don’t Talk To Me” sign around your neck.
At your desk, you find your inbox is flooded, so you grit your teeth and answer each email as fast as possible— briskly and to the point. Maybe you sound a bit aggressive, but some days are like that, right?
Meanwhile, there’s something you’re supposed to remember that keeps gnawing at you… but you can’t put your finger on what it was.
When lunch rolls around, you hide at your desk, guiltily chewing a greasy plate of $12 Chinese food, while kicking yourself for the extra money and calories you’re wasting when finances (and the ‘ol waistband) are already tight.
When you get back to the office, you discover a terse email response from one of your vendors, who completely misunderstood one of your snippy emails and responded with equal snippiness.
Instead of picking up the phone to clarify, you immediately shoot back a heated email to put clarify your original point— and put the vendor in his place.
It doesn’t work.
This heated email ping-pong continues the rest of your afternoon, getting you more and more agitated— and further behind on today’s tasks.
You end up staying late at the office to catch up… but the truth is, you can’t focus on anything today to save your life.
Suddenly realizing what time it is, you skip the gym and race home, grabbing a cheese pizza to feed the family … and blowing yet more of the vacation budget on greasy junk food.
As soon as you step through the door, you suddenly remember what you needed to do today: Return those pricey shoes before the refund deadline expired today! How could you have forgotten?!
After dinner, all you want is ONE minute to yourself, but by the time you get the kids to do their homework and rush them off to bed, you’re left staring at a house in complete disarray… and a husband sulking on the couch, who’s doing his best to stay out of your way.
After dishes, laundry and zoning out on Facebook for an hour, you crawl to bed just after midnight, realizing that once again you’re getting less than six hours of sleep tonight.
This story may sound exaggerated, but the fact is, it’s a reality many of us face on a daily basis.
We feel like we can never keep up with the demands of our lives, and are constantly stressed and behind on… everything.
This is no way to lead a happy life.
So how do we change it?
On the surface, the solution seems obvious: Get more sleep, wake up earlier, prepare healthy food, stay positive at work… blah blah blah.
But the question is HOW?
How do we regain focus, calm and a sense of peace when we feel angry, stressed and annoyed? When we feel out of control of our surroundings?
This is where our meditation comes in, and before you say you really don’t have time for that, we like to say – if you can’t find 15 minutes to meditate, you need an hour to meditate.
The Science of Meditation, Stress and Your Brain
You might have noticed from all the recent research: Meditation isn’t voodoo stuff anymore.
There are over 1,600 published studies on the benefits of meditation, with more being released every day.
Many of the world’s most outrageously successful people practice meditation.
Richard Branson, for example, swears by meditation… And here’s the root of why it’s so powerful:
Your brain needs downtime.
Just as your heart beats at different paces depending on your activity (fast when you’re working out, slow if your sleeping, etc.), your brain also has different operational speeds.
When you’re sleeping, your brain can rest and recharge in delta wave frequency.
When you’re hyper-focused or under pressure, your brain shifts into a high beta wavelength.
When you’re calm, creative and “in the moment”, you’re in the alpha wavelength.
Scientists are now discovering it is absolutely crucial for your brain to be in different frequencies throughout the day.
Just like you can’t function is your heart is racing all day, nor can or should your brain stay in the beta wave frequency all day.
What happens when your brain doesn’t get a break? Extreme stress, terrible concentration, memory loss… and eventually: Cellular damage.
How Stress Damages Your Brain
In the “bad day” scenario above, you’re effectively living your entire day in a high beta state. From the moment you wake up to the second you go to bed, you never allowed your brain to shift gears until you finally fell asleep.
This is the equivalent of sprinting hard all day long: It’s simply not functional or sustainable. And eventually, you will crash.
With the exception of short bursts of beta, your brain is designed to work best and keep you the happiest, sharpest and most creative flow when you can stay in the alpha zone most of the day.
So, HOW do you shift your brain out of your continual beta state? Here’s the beauty of it:
Just like shifting gears on a manual car, you are designed with the ability to consciously shift your brainwaves for optimum performance, which we can achieve through mindful meditation.
And guess what? Science is proving the benefits of meditation are real.
If you take a brain scan before and after you meditate, you will see your brain shifted into an alpha zone frequency— a more calm, focused and attentive state of mind.
After a few weeks of regular meditation, you’ll also see your brain remain in that alpha zone longer after each meditation… in some cases as long as months.
And here’s the game-changer:
Mindful meditation not only promotes healthy brain function in the short and long-term… Meditation changes the actual structure of your brain.
Does Meditation Permanently Change Your Brain? (Yes.)
Just like you can train your heart to beat in a specific zone through exercise, you can train your brain to stay in the alpha zone through meditation. (Amazing, right?)
But even more impressively, meditation is also proven to neurologically GROW your brain…
In fact, meditation has been found to counter normal, age-related brain shrinkage, keeping the brain sharp well into old age. (Keep reading for proof on this.)
What counts as “meditation”?
Meditation is any deliberate technique to induce a state of relaxation or intentional focus. Prayer, repeating a mantra, consciously clearing your thoughts, or even just sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing are all forms of meditation.
The goal is the same: Train yourself to shift into a level of consciousness that re-sets the healthy balance in your brain.
Does Meditation Really Improve Memory?
Yes, and much more. The proven long-term benefits of meditation include sharper focus and concentration, emotional calm, better sleep quality, improved physical health, and yes: sharper memory.
As for its effects on stress— well by definition, you can’t be stressed if you are meditating. 🙂
How Does Meditation Re-Grow My Brain?
When you’re in high beta frequency, your body releases extra cortisol to handle incoming stressors, which is highly destructive to brain cells over time.
Meditation on the other hand, reduces stress and therefore cortisol, which not only protects your brain from shrinking, but also allows your brain to grow new cells.
This growth increases the size of the hippocampus, a.k.a.: the memory center of your brain. And a bigger hippocampus means a stronger, sharper memory.
Meditation has also been shown to increase blood flow to the brain and even improve cardiovascular health.
In one 2010 study by the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, researchers found experienced meditators had significantly more blood flow to the parts of the brain that support attention and emotional regulation.
In other words, they found meditation creates real, biological changes to the actual structure of the brain.
And, just like anything else, the more you practice meditation, the easier you will find it to be present and emotionally stable throughout your day.
The best part is, with regular practice, this meditative state becomes the permanent set point for your mental and emotional state.
Another scientific study on meditation found that subjects who meditate have a thicker cortex than those who don’t meditate. Meditation appeared to actually slow the cortex thinning that happens with the normal aging process.
They found that portions of meditators’ brains looked DECADES younger than expected.
Specifically, researchers found the average thickness of the 50-year old meditators’ cortexes were similar to that of 20-year olds!
What’s the Best Way to Meditate?
Good news: Meditation isn’t hard, and there’s no “wrong” way to do it. Everyone can experience immediate benefits in just a few minutes put aside each day.
So the question now is: What if YOU started meditating?
How could it change your life?
Considering the facts above, how might meditation improve your focus, stress levels, memory, and overall happiness every day?
How might your story above about the frustrating day change if we added meditation?
Well, let’s give it a whirl:
Let’s still say you wake up late. Life happens, and sometimes the day doesn’t start perfectly. You have two choices:
You can go about the morning and start your day in an reactive (a.k.a.: high beta wave) state… or you can pause and take care of yourself first.
Call in late to work.
(Yes, you can.)
You have to break the cycle one day, and TODAY is the day.
You fix a healthy lunch for your kids, and then sit or lie down for 15 minutes and meditate. (See below for techniques)
After your 15 minute practice, you take a shower, fix yourself a healthy lunch and head to work. Your commute might even be faster now, as you’ve bypassed the morning rush hour.
This time, you arrive at work in a calm, balanced state— and even have the energy to chat briefly with Miss ‘Always Cheerful’ Sally. Through just a few friendly words, you discover Sally has extra time today to help you in a big project, which you gratefully agree to discuss over lunch.
Next, you sit down to your computer with the mental clarity to be friendly and precise in your responses— and the emails you get back are friendly and grateful… which doesn’t go unnoticed by your boss.
Before lunch, you pick up the phone and talk through a conflict that arose earlier in the week with a preferred vendor. The issue resolves itself quickly and ends on a high note… And at this point, you’ve made up for the time you lost being late.
You eat a healthy lunch chatting with co-workers, and talk with Sally about how she can help with your project. With Sally’s help, you’re able to wrap up in time to swing through the post office (phew) before hitting the gym after work, and then head home to make a healthy dinner.
Laughter fills the kitchen as you involve your husband and kids in the dinner preparation, and your positive mood spreads throughout the whole family.
Tonight the kids, feeling the love and security of a happy home, offer to help with the evening chores and go to bed without complaint.
With the house under control, you miraculously have time to flop on the couch and read some of a book that you started a long while ago.
Today, you saved $74 by making lunch and dinner for the family at home— numbers that add up to give you the peace of mind and freedom for fun things with your family.
Before bed, your husband chats with you about the day’s events… and eventually apologizes for not filling up the car. You realize you actually left it nearly empty before he took it out the day before, and a wave of gratitude washes over you, knowing you both took responsibility for what happened.
You fall asleep quickly and wake up rested and on time the next morning, ready to hit the day as planned.
Too good to be true?
Can your day really take such a dramatic of a shift, just by adding a simple 15-minute meditation?
Can meditation really take your entire life to a happier, healthier place?
Science says: YES.
At any point in the day, particularly when you feel overwhelmed with stress, you can stop, meditate for 15 minutes and completely shift the rest of your day.
Taking time to rest your brain and bring it back to alpha state creates a stable, focused state— which means a stronger place from which to make better and more creative decisions.
Just 15 minutes.
If that seems like a lot, ask yourself:
What else would I do with that 15 minutes, and how will that make my life better?
How long do I need to meditate?
To create a habit, it generally takes people about 20-30 meditation sessions to become a routine practice.
And once you get over the awkwardness when starting out, most people find they crave meditation at certain points in their day, as the effects are so immediately rewarding.
If you still need convincing, I give you my word:
If you stick meditation for as little as two weeks, I promise you will see discernible differences in your brain.
Even if you have never meditated before, you can easily start right now. Just pick the level below that works best for you, and give it a try today.
Here’s how to start:
Level I Meditation
If you have never meditated before, start by sitting in a comfortable chair or lie down in a comfortable position.
- Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
- Inhale through your nose to a count of 4… Hold for a count of 4…. and then exhale to the count of 4. Do this three times.
- Then, inhale to a count of 5, hold for 5 counts… and exhale for 5. Do this 3 times.
- Keep increasing the count, until you get to a count of 8.
That’s it! This is your first meditation.
Focusing on your breathing for just 5 minutes will bring your brain back into alpha frequency, creating a calmer, more balanced state of mind.
Do this every day for 10 days. After you have done this for 10 days, graduate to the next meditation.
Level II Meditation
If you’ve tried meditating but found it hard to practice daily or struggled to find the “groove”, start with a guided meditation.
Or, follow this practice:
- Again, find a comfortable position. It doesn’t matter if you are lying down, sitting cross-legged, or in a chair. The effect is the same. Close your eyes…
- Inhale through your nose to the count of 3…. Then exhale through your mouth to the count of 3. Do this three times.
- As you breathe, imagine a warm white light circling your toes. Feel the light slowly circling your toes, and then moving up through the bottoms of your feet. Keep inhaling and exhaling to the count of 3.
- Imagine the white light is soothing away any aches and pains as it slowly moves up through your ankles, your calves, and all the way through the rest of your body and through each arm… until it reaches the top of your head.
- As the light moves through each new joint and muscle group, pause and inhale to the count of 3… and then exhale to the count of 3.
Quieting your mind
When random thoughts pop into your head (and they will), just gently push them aside. Think of each thought as a leaf in a river. Acknowledge it and let it float on by… and then bring your attention back to the next part of your body being surrounded by the white light.
Take 15 minutes to practice this “White Light” meditation every other day for one week.
On the second week, once the white light gets to the top of your head, imagine it working its way back down, one body part at a time, until it once again reaches your toes. By the end of the second week, you will have gained enough ease in this practice to meditate every day.
Level III Meditation
After you have done the above mediation (or similar) for two weeks, you will have graduated to a mediation practice where you can actually change your thought patterns.
This next meditation, for experienced meditators only, will take you on a journey to start changing any negative thoughts and behaviors by changing the neurological pathways in your brain.
Just as your footsteps create a path through a grassy field, the more you walk the same path, the more defined it gets. Soon, more people will discover the path and walk it too, until eventually it gets paved for bicycles… and even cars.
Just like foot traffic, the thoughts in your head create neurological pathways in your brain— and the more you think a specific way— good or bad— the more you reinforce that particularly pathway.
Below is a free guided meditation that allows you to dig up the “cement” of old negative thought patterns, and replant the grass for a fresh, blank field of possibility in your mind.
For best results:
Start by picking one thing in your life you want to change, and examine the root of the issue:
For example, if you’ve struggled to lose weight, I assure you it’s not a food problem.
Dig down three layers and think about it:
- Why do you eat poorly or avoid exercise? What triggers that need?
- And what triggers that thought?
- And what triggersthat thought?
This last answer helps clarify the root of the negative pathway it’s time for you to replace.
In sum, science firmly and continuously shows us that meditation can help you grow your brain for a better memory, less stress, and and simply happier life.
This, my friends, is how we take control of our lives to be the people we want to be.
To your amazing brain… and your mediation journey,
Julia Lundstrom, Neuroscience and Brain Health Educator
Simple Smart Science