How Developing a Daily Meditation Practice Could Help You Become More Productiveby Rachel Adnyana
What does the word "meditation" conjure up for you? Buddhist monks praying in a temple on the side of some faraway mountain? Indian yogis tying themselves in knots? Hippies in designer yoga gear drinking green tea and eating tofu?
Meditation has long been known for its use in spiritual practices, but the practice of meditation has many benefits and is certainly not just a hyped-up, new-age trend. Once the realm of spiritual gurus and ascetics, meditation is now becoming popular with entrepreneurs, academics, and anyone aiming to achieve their highest potential.
Google employees have the opportunity to attend regular meditation classes, and the number of meditation apps that are popping up on iTunes and the Google Play store is testament to how the popularity of this ancient practice has increased in recent years. So what's all the fuss about?
The Benefits of Meditation
Many studies have been done into the physical and mental effects of meditation and there is compelling evidence that regular meditation can indeed provide a number of positive benefits for our health and well-being.
MRI scans have shown that during meditation, the pattern of brain waves changes, shifting more towards the theta waves that are produced when we are deeply relaxed or asleep. Meditation literally calms the brain and silences thoughts, reducing the amount of information that it would normally have to process in normal activity.
So what does a calmer brain do for us?
- Increases focus and reduces susceptibility to distractions
- Reduces stress
- Improves energy and reduces fatigue
- Increases creativity
- Improves memory and recall
- Improves emotional stability
- Improves mood and increases happier thoughts
- Improves the ability to step back and reflect on complex problems
A study carried out by the University of Washington into the effects of meditation in a high-stress environment found that workers trained in meditation techniques had better energy levels, a more positive outlook, improved memory, and concentrated better at work.
Achieving just one of two of these potential benefits could have a significantly positive effect on your productivity.
Sound good? But perhaps you're thinking that you don't have the time or the inclination to sit cross-legged for an hour every day. No need to fear – while some people become somewhat addicted to the positive effects of meditating and choose to do it for long periods. But just a couple of minutes a day can make a huge difference in your life.
How to develop a meditation practice
There are many different ways to meditate – you don't have to sit in the lotus position with your eyes closed, chanting "om." Many people actually engage in meditative activities without realising it. Knitting, for example, can be a form of meditation as the repetitive activity focuses and calms the brain.
The general technique behind meditating is to train your brain to focus on one particular thing. This may be your breathing, a mantra, a sound like a ticking clock, the light of a candle flame, a spot on the ceiling, an image in your mind, or anything else that works for you. Trying to simply stop thinking is incredibly hard for most people, so you need an object of focus to prevent your mind from drifting.
Many people fail at their attempts to meditate because they try to do too much too soon. As with exercise, it's better to start small and build up over time. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits has a highly popular guide on his site for developing a two-minute meditation practice.
Whichever way you choose to meditate, you'll probably want to find a quiet space where you will be free of interruption for the time you have chosen to meditate. Being comfortable is also important – sitting cross legged is traditional and has some other benefits, but there's no reason why you can't meditate lying in bed or sitting in a comfy chair.
You can also try a meditation app to help you develop the skill. These apps use a technique called guided meditation to help you to achieve a relaxed and focused state and they are great for beginners. Try one of the following:
- Buddhify (iOS and Android)
- Headspace (web, iOS and Android)
- Mental Workout Mindfulness Meditation (web, iOS and Android)
- Calm (web and iOS)
Remember, you don't necessarily need to set aside a certain time each day to meditate. Small periods of meditation can fit easily into your workday – for example during your pomodoro break.
Do you meditate? Have you tried out one of the meditation apps we mentioned or do you have another one to suggest? Let us know in the comments. Now close your eyes and breathe…
Image credit: Wonderlane, retrieved on 12 June 2014 from https://www.flickr.com/photos/wonderlane/3612652725/; no modifications made, Licence (CC BY 2.0)