There’s a lot of buzz about meditation and I know there are also a lot of skeptics out there. I used to be one.
In today’s episode, I’m sharing the science behind the positive impact of meditation. You’ll gain insight through a series of Harvard Health studies on how meditation can actually help you advance your career.
Give it a listen to learn the health benefits, how it can help you advance your career, and what to do if you just don’t believe it will work.
What You’ll Learn
The science behind the positive impacts of meditation through a series of Harvard Health studies
How stress kills brain cells and what you can do to prevent this and how meditation can help
My top apps and resources for starting to practice meditation
Why I was skeptical and thought I had no time but became a believer
How meditation isn’t just for relaxation and can help you process and heal emotional pain
Featured in This Episode
Learn more about coaching with Melissa at www.melissamlawrence.com
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Welcome to Navigating your Career, the only podcast that blends personal development, professional skills and psychology to help you get happy at work and live the life you want. If you want to stop feeling stuck and start feeling better, this is the place for you. I’m your host, Melissa Lawrence. Let’s get started.
Hello. Welcome to this week’s episode of the podcast. Last week, I talked about neuroplasticity and the science behind changing your thoughts and growth mindset and how we can rewire our brain to replace negative thought patterns with positive ones. And one way to support brain health and neuroplasticity is through mindfulness meditation. Meditation can actually cause physical changes in your brain, and when you use mindfulness to morph toward a more positive outlook, a state of peace and calm our brain adapts to this state as our default.
This is why meditation can have such a big impact. You can teach your brain to be mindful calm and centered throughout the day, not just while practicing the meditation. Now, I’ve said before, I wasn’t always a fan of meditation. I thought I didn’t have the time that it wouldn’t work, but it was silly and just way too woo. I had too many things to do, but I tried it anyway because, you know, health effects and it was hard.
It was hard to sit for 15 minutes at a time with my thoughts, trying to focus on some Kumbaya voice and song. But then I took away the expectation. I went to five minutes. Now I have the Peloton app, which is one of many that offer meditation practices, and I’ll get into a number of resources where you can find some meditations to get started. But this is where I started five minutes, and I would do it after I worked out in the morning and after a couple of tries, it really did help.
I was excited for my day. I was more calm. I wasn’t stressed about the things that were coming up that I had to deal with. So then I thought, Well, let me try it again at night because there are sleep meditations too. So again, five minutes sleep meditation lowered my heart rate, got me sleepy, got that melatonin kicking in, and I slept better and more soundly.
So I’ve kept at it. The last few years, I even brought a meditation program into my last corporate job with astrazanica to help employees during a stressful and high demanding work period. So you could say that I’m a bit of a believer now. I’ve seen the impact it can have on me, and yes, I still struggle with consistency. I’m not perfect.
So I schedule the time or put it in my planner so that I actually do it because I know it’s helpful. Like everyone else. I can get busy, so I don’t rely on remembering. I plan it now. I also do ten to 15 minutes meditations now, but only sometimes.
I just do five and that helps. So you don’t have to do 30 minutes sessions every day to get the positive health benefits. But let’s just dig into this more. Harvard Health did a pretty large study on the positive impacts of meditation, so I know you might be skeptical, so let’s talk about it and how it can really help you with your career. So there were some research that was conducted by Dr.
James Eastall and his team at Harvard. They studied participants in an eight week mind body relaxation program. He says that ten to 15 minutes is all you need, and consistency is more important than the amount of time, which is what I just said. Meditation lowers your body’s stress response, lowers hormones like Cortisol can improve heart health and relieve depression and anxiety symptoms. This is really important because stress contributes to all sorts of health problems and it kills brain cells if you listen to my last episode.
So some of the health problems that are attributable to stress or anxiety allergic skin reactions, arthritis, cough, depression, diabetes, gum disease, headaches, heartburn heart problems, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal issues, pain anywhere in your body, back, headaches, abdominal pain, Parkinson’s disease, increased side effects of cancer and cancer treatments, slower wound healing ulcers using a stress management technique like meditation can help to prevent these health issues by helping your body better manage stress and over time reduce stress altogether. Now another study was done and published in an issue of Psychiatry Research Neuroimaging, a team led by Harvard affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital reporting results that were the first to document meditation produced changes over time in the brain’s Gray matter.
The study showed that positive changes can occur in the brain from dedicated meditation practice, not just because they are relaxing. So there is a difference between taking a cocktail and sitting on the patio and spending time in intentional meditative practice. Now in this study, the participants had brain images done two weeks before and two weeks after the study.
They also did control group images. What they found is those that participated in the study, spending an average of 27 minutes daily and mindfulness exercises had improvements in their imaging and increased Gray matter density that is known to be important for learning memory, self awareness, introspection, and compassion. How cool is that? It’s fascinating that these practices can literally improve our brain health and functioning, that we can prevent health problems and improve memory and compassion just by spending a few minutes in meditation. Now, another study from Harvard, Yale, and MIT found that meditation can literally increase your brain size.
They found an increase of Gray matter and promotion of Cortical plasticity that led to important cognitive and emotional processing and, wellbeing, this is consistent with other studies. They compared brain scans of 20 meditators with 15 nonmeditators. The 20 meditators did intentional meditation and the 15 just relaxed and they watched what happened in their brains. And there are some early suggestion that meditation can even slow aging. So it’s pretty clear that meditation is a useful tool to improve your health and lower your stress, along with the other slew of positive effects like increasing brain size and helping you with compassion, self awareness, and memory.
So imagine if you’re at work or at home and you’re more calm, you’re less stressed, you’re more self aware healthier, and your brain is optimizing fully your results. What you’re able to analyze, contribute, and how you feel is going to be completely different. Your brain is going to be operating on a whole new level. Your central nervous system is going to be more calm. Using this practice can totally help you excel at work and have that competitive advantage.
You’re not going to be just another busy professional running around trying to meet all of these competing deadlines in addition to, of course, being healthier overall as a person. So let’s talk about types of meditation. There is concentration, which is focusing your mind on a specific outcome or thought or situation. There’s heart centered meditation, which is quieting the mind, bringing awareness to your heart mindfulness meditation, which is focusing on a specific thought pattern and removing it from your mind. Transcendental meditation is using mantras, words, phrases, or sounds, so there are a variety of types and you don’t have to choose just one.
There’s also guided meditation, and there’s just music meditation. You can mix them up, but here are a couple of simple exercises that you can try. The first is to check in with your breath for ten to 15 minutes for a midday break, close your eyes and notice where you store stress in your body as your breath becomes slower and smoother. Imagine sending your breath to that area on your inhalation. Imagine a not loosening as you exhale.
Repeat this cycle with each inhale and exhale. You would continue this for ten to 15 minutes in the middle of your day or whenever you feel called to do so. The goal here is to really become aware of your body and to let your breath release that stress that you’re having that tightness that you feel. Now. Another option is to do a body scan for ten to 15 minutes again.
You can try these for five minutes too. You don’t have to go right in for ten to 15. You can try ten or 15, see how that works for you. Bring it down to five if it’s too long. So to do a body scan, you would find a comfortable speed or lie down.
Close your eyes and breathe deeply and slowly. You would first focus your attention on your feet. Notice any tension, pain or stress. Take deep, slow breaths as you focus your awareness on that area of your body as if you are scanning your body with light movement, taking your attention slowly upward. Notice how each section of your body feels as you continue to breathe slowly, your shins and knees, thighs, hips, lower back, stomach, chest and upper back, neck and shoulders.
And finally your head. You can try a variety of approaches to find what sticks. Daily practice works best, but if you have a busy schedule, aim for a couple of times a week and don’t give up if it’s not working right away. These techniques are like any other skill or workout, and that the more that you do it, the stronger that you will get. So I tend to do these.
I do five minute meditations after I work out in the morning. I will sometimes do them before bed. I will sometimes do them in the middle of the day for a nice break. If I’m feeling overwhelmed or stressed or like I need to clear my head, it’s a good time also to just become aware. Another form of this is actually if you have a watch like an Apple Watch or Samsung Watch or a Fitbit, they have breathing exercises on there as well.
I use a Fitbit right now. You can set the number of minutes through the app. There’s actually mindfulness meditations that you can do at any time. So this is a great way to just implement these breathing exercises, which are another form of meditation to get these health benefits. And if you want to learn more about this, Harvard Medical School has a paper called now and Then How Mindfulness Can Change Your Brain and Improve Your Health.
It’s a series of curated articles from a presentation that was done a few years ago, so I can link that up in the show notes for you. There’s also a great Ted talk, how Meditation can reshape our brains by Sara Lazar are I will link that up for you as well. I know a lot of you are fans of Ted Talks. Now, if you’re looking to start practicing, here are some resources for you. So I use the Peloton app, which is an overall fitness app, but I really love their meditation library, and they also have live meditation sessions.
There are also apps dedicated to mindfulness and meditation. There’s headspace, Meditation Oasis, Smiling, Mind Calm. These are all some of the popular ones, and I even have a meditation on the podcast that I did last year around this time to help with holiday stress. And that is a five minute meditation. You can check that out by going back to the bonus episodes within the podcast library.
And next week I’m going to release a special episode, a meditation to help you accept and process a negative emotion or thing that is bothering you. So this is another way that you can use meditation, not just to bring calmness and to relieve stress, but you can actually use it to help heal and process emotions or troubling thoughts. And so next week I am going to have a podcast episode dedicated to that meditation that you will be able to access and listen to as much as you’d like.
All right. Have an amazing week.
I will see you same place, same time next week where we will do some meditative practice together and help you feel better going into this holiday season. Have a great week.
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