Why Meditation Is More Than Just a New-Agey Trend
Meditation is a lot like doing yoga and eating kale. You know it's good for you—in theory, at least. But before it becomes a habit, and way before it becomes something you actually look forward to, it feels super intimidating. Sitting still with zero distractions isn’t an inherentlyfun thing to do, nor is it particularly easy. And unlike, say, spin class, you don’t feel like you’re actively doing anything when you’re meditating. You don’t feel your heart racing, or your muscles stretching, or anything actually happening. But it is!
Research shows that meditating changes both your brain and your body, for the better. Without getting too science-y on you, longtime meditators have more gray matter in the insula and sensory regions as well as the auditory and sensory cortex. That translates to being more observant and compassionate, as well as—no surprise here—less stressed out.
But the upsides don’t stop there. According to Ellie Burrows, the founder of NYC meditation studio MNDFL, “Meditation helps you become familiar with yourself—all of who you are. It helps open your heart to yourself and others, fosters compassion, and allows you to ride the waves of your emotions. If there's something we don't like about ourselves, we misstep or make a mistake, we're better able to sit with that discomfort instead of acting out. That includes being hard on ourselves. It's helped me to be more gentle and loving toward myself.”
A recent study suggests that meditating 25 minutes for three consecutive days is the sweet spot for stress reduction. But if you don’t have an hour and a half per week to spare, don’t skip out altogether. Lodro Rinzler, who serves as the “chief spiritual officer” (a real job title!) at MNDFL, says you can give up far less time to get the same benefits. “We recommend 10 minutes a day to start,” he says. “It's like picking up a musical instrument. If you pick it up for even ten minutes a day, you start to become more familiar with it, and before you know it, you're jamming out. Same with meditation. At first it might feel a bit awkward or hard to stay with the breath. But if you do it a little bit every day, it gets dramatically easier.”
You’re probably not going to hit a transcendental state the first time you try it, but if you can calm your mind for even a few minutes, it’s worthwhile. (Real talk: You won’t realize how un-calm your brain usually is until you actively try to calm it for a bit.) Whatever you do, don’t wait until you’re less busy or less stressed or less consumed withThe Mindy Project to meditate. Start now—and the earlier you start, the better.
“I wish I started meditating in my teens,” says Ellie. “It would have slowed things down—a lot. The brain is technically an adolescent until the age of 25 and the reward system is very active during those years. In my teens I felt this interesting combination of invincibility and naïveté. Meditation would have been a very grounding tool to have during that time in my life. I could have handled certain stresses and pressures with more balance.”
Lordo echoes that thought (and so do we, for the record). “Particularly when we're bombarded by ads, movies, and music saying we should look and feel a certain way, it's really refreshing to do a meditation practice," he adds. "You are focusing on connecting with who you are, as opposed to thinking about who you should be. The more we befriend ourselves in the practice of meditation, the happier we are in the rest of our life.”
Now that we've sufficiently convinced you to meditate, check back next week to learn how to actually, you know, do it.