Thank you for the overwhelming response to wanting to know more about meditation and how I got started with it. I want to preface this post by saying that meditation is a very personal journey and what works for one person may not work for another. Just like trying out a fitness classes or picking a book to read, I have found that trial and error is often your best bet. I hope this post inspires you to take the chance to find out how meditation can help your mind, body and spirit and how little time it takes for it to be effective.
A Little Science Lesson
Mindfulness meditation doesn’t only change our outlook, it cab actually change the shape of our brains. “Generalized neuroimaging meditation studies found that 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation also changes our brains, rewiring them towards more positive thoughts and emotions.”
For starters, meditation allows us to move from high-frequency brain waves to a lower frequency, which activates (and, potentially even more importantly, deactivates) certain areas of the brain. For example, it can decrease neurological connections to the medial prefrontal cortex, or the “me center,” diminishing traits such as fear, stress, and anxiety. In turn, meditation can also build new pathways to the parts of the brain responsible for traits like focus and decision-making.
And that’s not all: mindfulness meditation can actually change the shape of the brain as well, a process known as neuroplasticity. Research shows that gray matter — the area of the brain responsible for emotional regulation, planning, and problem-solving — as well as the cortical thickness — responsible for learning and memory — both increase with regular meditation practice. Alternatively, the amygdala, which regulates how we feel stress, fear, and anxiety, decreases in size.
Meditation for me has been about becoming more present, aware of my thoughts and taking the time to slow down in the fast paced world we live in. The more conversations I have with friends and family the more I realize how much we worry about things we can’t control. We take so little time to just stop, breathe and be in the moment. Our phones don’t help with that either and I for one am absolutely guilty of that! This all comes down to mindfulness which is about being present and being fully engaged with whatever we may be doing in the moment. For me its also become about becoming more in touch with my feelings and not always putting on a happy face. Allowing yourself to feel anger, sadness, loneliness, frustration are all part of self care as much as enjoying the happier and lighter moments.
Learning to meditate is like learning any other skill. Think of it like exercising a muscle that you’ve never really worked out before. It takes consistent practice to get comfortable. There are some really easy techniques that you can do (or you may already be doing) that can contribute to learning how to meditate. For example, I used to do yoga regularly and some of the breathing techniques they teach you as you are starting or ending the class are very similar to some meditation techniques. One of my favourites in particular is the body scan.
Often when starting yoga my teacher would ask us to lie down and start relaxing all of our muscles from the top of our heads down to our toes. This helps to increase the awareness of your body and promote physical relaxation. I often do this before bed and by the time I get to my tummy i’m usually asleep. During the scan, you bring your attention, in a very systematic way, to the sensations that appear in your body. I tend to focus on the smallest of areas or muscles as I move down from my head like my hairline, the middle of my forehead, the muscles around my eyes and signal them to relax as I continue to scan down my body. During the scan, breathing is extremely important as it helps to promote mental and physical relaxation. By bringing the breath to any place where you’re feeling physical tension, you’ll gradually release this tension. The physical release of tension then promotes a state of mental peace. If you are considering trying body scanning I’d highly recommend starting with a guided one so you can start hearing and understanding the cues and then eventually do it on your own.
On the topic of guidance, another tool I use is guided mediation. You can find some really great guides on YouTube but I have used the app Headspace which I am a huge fan of. First of all the voice of the guides are so soothing and I appreciate how accessible and easy the platform makes meditation. They have guides for all kinds of situations relaxation and sleep and even some to feel more energized. The app is free and comes with a few complimentary starter guides. You can then purchase additional guides for your specific goals. I also recently took part in a guided meditation hike during my trip to Scottsdale (pictured below). I was so relaxed during the meditation that I actually fell asleep! But imagine waking up to this view?
I recently tried out a meditation class at Hoame here in Toronto and it was very different than anything I have experienced. First off, the studio is beautiful. From the second you walk in you feel instantly relaxed and at ease. The have light and dark meditation rooms and even an infrared sauna and salt cave. Their mission is to make meditation as accessible and easy as possible. You can book single classes/sessions in their various rooms or opt for class packs and even unlimited classes. I tried out their RISE class described as a “high-intensity meditation class, designed to challenge the body and mind with a great soundtrack thrown in.” Definintiely not your typical meditation class but the way that it allowed me to find strength in the movement of my own body and appreciated how MY body moves without comparing it to others was truly uplifting and empowering. Highly recommend you check them out, I for one am really excited to try their salt cave and for a limited time they are offering 50% off their yearly membership.
Some of you may not know this, but the reason I started this blog was because writing for me has always been extremely cathartic and therapeutic. I often find it hard to express the complex (and often dramatic!) way that I am feeling to others so by writing it down I find that I am able to get my thoughts out quickly, without having to filter myself and without judgement. I try to write daily but often find myself doing it more when I need it. I recently tried an exercise with a group of women where we were given an empty journal and asked to write continuously for 5 minutes without stopping or lifting the pen from the page. They said to start with asking yourself how you’re feeling or what you’re doing but then as I continued to write I noticed how one thought kept leading to another and before I knew it, the pages were FULL. This isn’t I journal on the regular, I often just make it more conversational but I want to try this exercise again just given how much I wrote in such a short period of time and how much came out!
A Final Thought
Something to remember about mindfulness is that it’s a state of mind. It’s rethinking the way we live and remembering to take a step back and be present in whatever situation you may find yourself in. By also becoming more aware of your thoughts and emotions, both positive and negative, you are able to choose how to handle difficult situations and approach them with more empathy and possibly even from a place of calmness. Of course you will get angry or sad but its being more thoughtful about recognizing and acknowledging the why behind the emotion.
However you choose to incorporate meditation into your routine, know that there is something for everyone. Half the battle is going into the journey with an open mind and open heart instead of assumptions and predispositions.
I’d love to hear about how you have incorporated meditation into your health and wellness routine or if you have any questions, tips or advice!
Thank you for reading, until next time!