Martha Lee PhotoYou Can and Should Mediate… and Here’s Why

By Martha Lee

“Oh, I could never do that” (Yes, you can)

“I tried that, but I’m pretty sure I did it wrong.” (No. You didn’t)

These are a couple of the responses I get when I tell people that I try to meditate every day. An app on my phone takes me through a 10 minute guided meditation and covers a range of topics like letting go of stress, cultivating kindness and increasing focus. 

In a recent interview, Dr. Richard Davidson, the founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, equates the practice of meditation with playing sports. And just as different sports will do different things to your body, different meditation practices will do different things to your brain. 

Incorporating meditative practices into your daily routine is exercise for your brain. And according to experts like Dr. Davidson, just as we use exercise to become stronger, more flexible, and healthy in our bodies, we can use meditation to strengthen our minds–including becoming more compassionate, experience more gratitude, empathy, as well as have better focus and experience less stress. Who doesn’t want that! 

Engaging in a daily meditative practice also increases mindfulness. Since I started meditating, I realize what a busy place my brain is. I constantly lose focus on my breath as I meditate, by getting distracted by any number of thoughts, ideas or emotions swirling around me at the time. Rather than be self-critical, I identify what distracted me (a thought or emotion), and bring my focus back to my breath. Many meditation experts and practitioners describe that moment when you notice you’re distracted as a win. As a result, I am much better about noticing when I am distracted in my daily life. I have gotten pretty good at catching myself when a thought or emotion hijacks me and pulls me away from the present moment. Meditation allows me to see that my thoughts and feelings are constantly changing, which makes it easier to experience uncomfortable emotions, because they aren’t permanent… unless I let myself get caught up in them. 

Since I started meditating, I have a better understanding of what I want to work on to be the person I want to be. I am better able to intentionally respond rather than mindlessly react, especially in times of stress and conflict, and I am a little more patient than I used to be. All of this adds up to a greater sense of calm and clarity, which I really value, even though things around me are far from perfect.    

Still not sure if meditation is for you? Check out the following resources. 

  • The Center for Healthy Minds developed the 531 Practice. Based on their research, meditating for 5 minutes, writing down three things you’re grateful for and doing one act of kindness for someone each day helps reduce stress.  
  • Author and journalist, Dan Harris, has a Meditation for Beginners YouTube video, which features Sharon Salzberg, a pioneer in the mindfulness meditation movement. I hope you will try both of these practices. More importantly, I hope this will put you on a path of exploration to a healthier brain and greater calm and clarity in your life. 
  • A 2015 article in Forbes magazine highlights 7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change The Brain. One study included in the article shows that older adults who have meditated for 20 years or longer have healthier brains than non-meditators based on brain scans.