“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” – Baba Ram Dass
There are so many things that can affect our mental health in the world we live in today: work, family, school, social media, the list goes on and on. There are many ways of coping with these factors, but one that I’ve found to be particularly helpful for myself is meditation.
Meditation is the act of observing your thoughts and feelings without judgment, in order to be able to more adequately and calmly react to them. This is something that takes time and practice and isn’t necessarily a quick fix, but it can be really helpful to your mental state in the long run.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: meditation is not for me, I don’t have time to sit on the ground and try to attune myself to the universe, or whatever. But hear me out. Meditation is trying to attune yourself to the universe, but it’s more about trying to attune yourself to yourself; it’s the act of trying to observe and understand your own feelings and thought processes in order to make better and more informed decisions for yourself in the future.
There have been several studies done on the effectiveness of having a meditation practice, and a resulting decrease in anxiety and depression symptoms. An article published in JAMA Internal Medicine analyzed 47 studies, and found that there are mental health benefits to meditation (NPR has a great article explaining the results of that analysis more in-depth, which can be found here).
I personally have found there to be a link between my meditation practice and the lessening of my anxiety symptoms. I have always been a pretty happy person, but I developed anxiety in my early twenties, which is fairly common, from what I understand. I was having a hard time managing my symptoms, and it was causing me to feel less and less like myself.
When I had just completed my 200-hour yoga teacher training at a studio in Boulder, I was introduced to the idea of meditation in order to help manage my symptoms. I had decided to take another teacher training because I wanted to learn more about my practice and the different aspects of it. One of the instructors and I got to chatting after a session one day, and we were talking about my anxiety and how I felt like I had tried everything to deal with it, and she asked me if I tried meditation:
“Well, I’ve tried it, but it’s not really for me. I can’t seem to focus on anything when I’m meditating,” I said.
“You should try doing it for just a couple minutes a day for a week,” she said. “It’ll begin to make a difference, I promise.”
So I decided to add a two-minute meditation to the end of my yoga practice. It couldn’t hurt, right? While the initial practice didn’t seem to do much for me, I kept at it. I’d read a study that stated that meditation could actually help reduce the loss of grey matter in our brains (this is where most of the neurons that make up our central nervous system live), which can lead to lower rates of neurodegeneration (think Alzheimer’s Disease or MS). An excellent summary of that study can be found here.
So I kept meditating. And it became easier to do so as time passed. The changes were definitely not immediate, or abrupt: it wasn’t like I suddenly understood how to calm my mind when I was feeling anxious, or how to not react to a situation from an emotional place. But I got there. I’ve been meditating almost every day for a little over a year now, and I’ve definitely noticed a change in the way I perceive things. I’ve been able to take a moment to think about why I’m feeling a certain way, and react from that understanding rather than the feeling itself, which I think is pretty darn good.
Now, I’m not saying that meditation is the only way to cope with anxiety, depression, or stress, but it can certainly be helpful. Even just a small mindfulness practice can be really helpful in dealing with our abundance of emotions, and can teach us to react from a place of understanding, rather than that of feeling. Humans are emotional creatures, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling a certain way about things, but it can be hard to express ourselves when we let our emotions rule us. Meditation teaches us to experience those emotions, acknowledge and understand them, without letting them define our experiences. We can learn to peacefully coexist with all the aspects of ourselves, and more effectively communicate our experiences to those around us.
© Keira Mountain 2018