What are the keys to a healthy lifestyle? All of you guys should know this by now: eat healthy, exercise, get enough rest, and...meditate? Yes, that's right—shutting your eyes and sitting still for a few minutes can give your mind and body a serious boost. It might not sound like the most macho thing in the world, but hear us out.
Why should I meditate?
When you think about meditating, your first image might be of some scruffy monk in the Himalayas chanting in tongues while seeking inner enlightenment. But you don't need to be a religious zealot to reap the benefits of quiet reflection.
A Harvard study done at the Massachusetts General Hospital found that meditating for just eight weeks had a big impact on the brain's grey matter, which is known to be important for learning and memory, as well as self-awareness, compassion, and introspection. The study also found that meditating helped calm the part of the brain that's responsible for stress and anxiety.
We asked yoga instructors Bernadette Pacana-Yap and Patricia Mortel to shed a bit more light on the matter. Bernadette explained to us that meditating can improve your critical and creative thinking, reduce the likelihood of depression and anxiety, and help you to think clearer.
While meditating can make you feel good mentally, it can also improve your health. Benefits include a stronger immune system, better focus and relaxation, and better quality sleep.
"In this day and age where the mind is trained to always be one step ahead, to plan for the future, to be fast enough so as not to be left behind, meditation allows you to do the opposite—to stay connected to the present, to be fully aware of what's happening around you, to observe your thoughts without being led by them," Bernadette says.
"Meditation is a state of mind that is accessible for everyone and cuts across all cultures, religions, and lifestyles. You don't need to be in a retreat somewhere or locked in a temple to do it," says Patricia.
How and when should I medidate?
Bernandette explains that there isn't a set formula for meditating. "Whichever [method of meditation] you choose, practice letting go of any judgment of your thoughts, of what happening or unfolding, and of yourself," she explains.
Patricia explains that meditation can be found in different forms: "It would be great if meditation is already an aspect of your fitness regimen, like yoga. But nonetheless, you can always incorporate it with other fitness routines. I once heard a trail runner tell me that running was his meditation. You can aim to be mindful (or more mindful, and with full awareness) in doing your fitness regimen—whatever it might be."
Both instructors recommend that you start with small sessions (say, five to 10 minutes) and let yourself "grow" into your meditation with practice. Simply find a comfortable position, close your eyes, and clear your mind. You can focus on a particular emotion or positive mantra, or you can even find a guided meditation video on YouTube to help you along.
"[Meditation] can be awkward, unfamiliar, and perhaps frustrating. Allowing oneself to go 'inward' can be challenging for many especially to those who are always on the go. But having these feelings is okay. You have to give yourself permission to be a beginner and over time, it will get better," Bernadette advises.
If you've got a packed schedule and can't tear yourself away from your office desk, you can still sneak in some quality meditation time. Bernadette explains: "When at work, on your office chair, sit up tall, either close your eyes or focus on a certain object. Then take full deep breaths through your nose—five to 10 cycles. Just be fully aware of your breath without forcing it. You can also allow yourself to be fully aware of your surroundings—the sound, the smell, what you see, what you feel without judging the information that your senses are giving you."
What matters most, Patricia advises, is consistency. "I advise daily meditation so that it becomes a habit—as my teacher would say, much like brushing your teeth! This is so the mind learns to go in that state more fluidly and with less struggle," she says.
So, go ahead. Shut your eyes, let go of your worries, and clear your mind. It can do wonders for your health.