You’ve probably heard lots of articles and celebrities telling you how meditation can be extremely impactful on mental health. They suggest getting a meditation app, trying it out daily and using it as a time to reflect on yourself. They say doing this will improve not only your mental health but also your physical health. Yet no one ever seems to tell you exactly why it works, or really even how to meditate. If you’ll stick with me, I’ll do my best help explain meditation and how you can use it to your own advantage.
To start off, let’s break down some of the science behind meditation. Studies suggest meditation can do two important things to your brain. Physically changing the outer layer of your brain, and changing the activation pattern within your brain.
The outer layer of your brain is important for information processing, kind of like a computer. A 2012 study compared brain images and results showed an increase in the folds in the outer layer of the brain – a process called gyrification, which potentially increases the processing power and speed of the brain. Thus you could have faster reaction times and be better at sustaining and retaining the information that enters your brain for a longer period afterwards.
The second impact of meditation is that it changes the activation pattern within your brain. The study that showed this was done at Havard and the results showed evidence of pattern change in the amygdala, a core part of our emotional processes. This affects things from emotional self-control to general mental well-being. I say ‘to’ because the way you meditate changes the way your brain activation pattern works. Meditating for anxiety is very different from meditating for blood pressure.
There are many types of meditation, but they generally have a few core requirements: a focus of attention (which can be difficult for people suffering from attention disorders like me), an open mindset, and the minimal amount of distractions possible. Meditation doesn’t have to be just sitting still and closing your eyes, it can be nearly any form of consistent mindfulness or concentration. Do you like whittling? Do you have a routine in the morning that is nearly muscle memory? These things can be forms of meditation.
Depending on what you need meditation for, changes your type of meditation. The two main categories of meditation practices would be mindfulness and concentration. One works by being aware of your state of being and recognising and accepting it at that moment. The other works by focusing on something – a light activity, image or mantra. This can be split into further meditation practices. Movement meditation is concentrative but instead of sitting down with your eyes closed, you walk around or do light exercise – it’s great at energising you for the day. While there are also breathing meditations, visualisation meditations, chanting meditations, and many more. All are able to improve some part of yourself or your life.
I can’t tell you the exact way to meditate because there isn’t one. It all depends on you and your specific goals or needs. If you really still don’t know how you could possibly meditate, then get an app and try it out for a few days just to ease into the whole realm. They can help at the start of your journey but become increasingly harder to use as a staple part of your routine. The more you think about it, the more clear your goals will become. So remember to close your eyes, breathe and say: ‘Ommm’.
Ethan Ola is an undergraduate student at Eastern Washington University, majoring in psychology, and loves to learn new things.