The mind is a chronic chatterbox. Our compulsive inner monologues can be like endless loops of stuck records, playing the same thoughts over and over.
Dealing with stress created by compulsive negative thoughts has a cumulative effect on our brain and its ability to remember and learn.
It’s been almost 5 years since a renowned Harvard study, led by Dr. Sara Lazar, published results showing evidence that when exposed to the repeated practice of meditation, the brain adjusts in a positive direction. It becomes thicker in the areas that deal with mental focus and emotional stability.
The participants had been practicing meditation from 1 to 40+ years. During the study they meditated an average of 40 minutes a day with some doing as little as 10 and others as much as 90 minutes.
They used “insight meditation,” which can be practiced anytime anywhere because the idea is to focus on whatever is there. If a siren wails or a leg falls asleep, you just notice the noise or the physical sensation without engaging in thought about it. If nothing is there, you pay attention to your breathing. The point is to get used to not allowing the mind to elaborate on things
Dr. Lazar pointed out that when people begin practicing meditation, they soon realize that what goes on in their head is a lot of random thoughts of little substance.
For instance, when facing an important deadline we can drive ourselves crazy with unproductive “what if” worry. “If instead we focus on the present moment, on what needs to be done and what is happening right now, then much of the feeling of stress goes away,” Lazar says. “Feelings become less obstructive and more motivational.”
The benefits of meditation are subtle, but the effects become apparent when you begin to notice that when faced with a situation that would usually cause anxiety you are able to remain uncharacteristically calm.