Between dropping the kids off at school, squeezing in a day at the office and stocking the fridge, the thought of adding 30 minutes of “nothing” to your to-do list probably invokes a sarcastic “yeah right” from most women.
But if eliminating stress and finding more balance sounds like heaven, it’s worth setting some time aside each day for mindfulness meditation.
The practice, which involves sitting quietly and focusing on sensations, feelings and your state of mind, is so effective that it’s been proven to change the structure of our brains.
Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital found people who practiced mindfulness meditation for an average of 27 minutes a day had increased grey-matter in the areas of the brain responsible for memory and learning, plus had reduced stress and anxiety.
A separate study from Emory University in Atlanta found zen meditation – a type of mindfulness meditation – could be used to treat disorders marked by distracting thoughts, such as attention deficit disorder, depression and anxiety disorder.
Mindfulness meditation works by counteracting the “fight or flight” hormone response we experience when under stress. “It re-activates the prefrontal cortex of the brain … which is the more sophisticated part that helps regulate your emotions to choose a response,” says Melbourne mindfulness meditation teacher Anja Tahane.
While busy mums understandably struggle with the concept of setting aside time to meditate each day, Tahane says it’s worth it. “I have taught a number of mothers with small children. When they did [regular meditation] they found they were able to be much more patient with their children, and were less likely to lose their temper with them,” she says.
It’s ideal to meditate for 30 minutes each day but Tahane says even 10 minutes will make a huge difference. “When you do it again and again, you’re building the pathways in the brain,” she says. “It’s just like training for tennis or learning a new language, if you want to learn a new pattern, you have to do it regularly.”
One mindfulness meditation exercise involves taking time out to focus on breath coming in and out of the body. “Don’t try to control it … and when your mind wanders off, bring it gently back to the breath without getting upset at yourself,” Tahane says. “By doing that, you decrease psychological distress and increase your immune system, have better health and have better relationships.”
You can also try doing a body scan. “Go through different parts of the body and notice what’s going on,” Tahane suggests. “If part of your body is sore, just notice how that feels, rather than trying to make it go away. Or if you’re feeling sad, think about where the sadness is in your body. By paying attention to those feelings, even the unpleasant ones, they become much more manageable.”
If doing it alone is difficult, you can do a meditation course or download free meditation MP3s from Australian psychologist Mal Huxter’s website.
Gary Gorrow a meditation teacher and self-growth expert recommends doing 20 minutes meditation twice a day, at least six hours apart.
He teaches vedic meditation, which involves doing a four-session course where you learn to chant a mantra on repeat. “A 20-minute session of vedic meditation, is equivalent to about two or three hours of night-time rest,” he says.
While the meditation itself is different to mindfulness, Gorrow says once meditating becomes a habit, you automatically become more mindful. “Your awareness opens up when you’re alive and walking around,” he says. “You’ll notice your creativity will increase, your health will improve, your threshold for stress will triple and anxiety will go down.”
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