Still: defined as free from turbulence or commotion; peaceful; tranquil and calm. Referring to both the body and the mind. It’s a word and a state of being I’ve been contemplating for some time. In one of my grandfather’s hand-written journals, I found an excerpt from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
Let us labor for an inward stillness,
An inward stillness and an inward healing,
That perfect silence where the lips and heart
Are still, and we no longer entertain
Our own imperfect thoughts and vain opinions…
The idea that stillness not only leads to healing, but also frees us from all the thoughts that invade our brains and bodies on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis is its true value. But even despite the promise of healing, motion, especially movement forward, is lauded as the ideal in our society. That said, little by little, study by study, science is beginning to break through our steadfast Western ideals as light is shined on a new set of values. Inward stillness, achieved through meditation, is taking hold. And it’s not complicated or even time-consuming. To find the inward stillness to which Longfellow refers, and attain the benefits science promises, we don’t need to sit cross-legged, chant, or even be physically still. We simply need curiosity and a willingness to explore. So, if you’re up for it, let’s begin!
A few weeks back, an investment bank trader, entrepreneur, neuroscientist, salesman, artist, publicist, executive assistant, massage therapist, and yoga teacher, one by one, looked me in the eye to express their need to add calm to their lives. Courtney Bauer (my collaboration partner and YL Soul Expert) and I have taught meditation for years, but this was our first workshop where every participant expressed the exact same reasoning for attending. (An investigation into why all participants were seeking this same sense of calm is a letter for another day.) Our goal was to explain the science and practice of mediation and send each participant off with their own meditation formula; that is, a practice that works best for their individual life. It was a lofty goal for a one-day workshop. And, in this letter to you, I hope to achieve something even loftier in giving you the cliff notes.
First, the science. For centuries, Eastern cultures intuitively understood something about the brain that science couldn’t prove. But now that modern technology allows us to study the brain, Western science is catching up to what used to be Eastern medicine conjecture. The results are even more extraordinary than we imagined. Meditation, in fact, positively affects both the function of the body and the state of the brain.
Today’s reality is that we are stressed—a lot. As a result, our bodies live in a state of stress. Our bodies were not designed to live in this state, and there are consequences, including compromised digestion, anxiety, depression, and a weakened immune system. But meditation helps to shift the body out of a state of stress and back to homeostasis. The state of the body is affected dramatically by meditation.
Now, the brain. The brain is comprised of gray matter and white matter. Large amounts of gray matter in certain parts of the brain are responsible for processing information. A study revealed that meditating over just eight weeks resulted in an increase in gray matter in the learning, memory, compassion, and self-awareness sections of the brain. It also resulted in a decrease in gray matter in the stress and anxiety sections of the brain. This translates to more brainpower for learning and remembering, and less for worrying. That sounds like a good deal to me!
Let’s move onto the “how to.” There are literally hundreds of ways to meditate. Courtney and I teach our favorite, most accessible techniques in our workshops. Each technique works differently for each person. There are techniques our students love and others that may not work for all. But, by far, our most popular and most accessible technique is counting. Yes, something you learned at 2 or 3 years old can be a meditation. We recommend counting your breath, but you can really count anything: the seconds, the number of people who walk by you with a red shirt, etc. Doesn’t sound like meditation? Just try it:
- Find a comfortable place to stand, sit, or lie down. Use pillows or bolsters to make yourself comfortable.
- Set a timer for 3 minutes.
- Count each time you inhale and exhale—this is a breath cycle. For example, after you inhale and exhale, label that “one.” The next time you inhale and exhale, label that “two.” If you lose count, bring your attention back to your breath and start again.
It’s really that easy. And once you get the hang of it, slowly increase the number of minutes you meditate. For more information, check out our Meditation 101 article. As for our students seeking calm, they are on their way. Remember, it only takes 8 weeks for a marked change in the body and brain to occur. You can be on your way too—start today!
Make A Change Today,