Meditation Is Bigger Now Than Ever Before. Here's Why (And How You Can Get All The Benefits)
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The other day, I called a friend from college whom I hadn't spoken to in a few months. When I asked her how she was, I wasn't surprised to hear her say, "I'm anxious. The news has me constantly on edge, and I'm having the hardest time sleeping. I've been meditating a lot."
According to early data from the SleepScore campaign, since the U.S. national election in November there have been significant surges in sleeplessness. And it makes sense—every day seems to bring on more unsettling news about the state of our nation and the rest of the world, leading to feelings of unease and instability.
Enter meditation, a tried and true practice for reducing stress and increasing overall happiness. People are suddenly making time to get the hang of a practice they once claimed they didn't have the patience for. It's time to invest in a good meditation cushion because meditation isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Why people are finally giving a meditation a shot
Meditation has been around for centuries, but in 2017 even the busiest people are finding short windows of time to meditate. According to psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, this has to do with anxiety and stress being at an all-time high. "Instead of short-term stressful events that pass, today's modern life is characterized by chronic stress," she explains. "People are looking for ways to reduce their anxiety in helpful ways. While medications are still frequently used, people are looking for effective ways to reduce stress that are not addictive, don't require prescriptions, and don't have the negative side effects of many medications."
Biet Simkin, a meditation expert and mbg class instructor, thinks meditation is a natural progression from yoga. "As a country, doing yoga for 40 years, the whole point of yoga is that it's supposed to open you up for meditation. The craving has occurred."
She adds that meditation is a spiritual tool that brings people together, something we need more than ever. "Meditation offers an opportunity to connect to the invisible world within ourselves and around us. It offers us an improvement in our lives and does this all with great inclusivity."
Dr. Lombardo adds that a growing conversation around meditation is also responsible for its popularity. "The conversation is in the media, and there's support in the research. Celebrities are talking about the benefits they get from meditation. In a sense, 'everybody is doing it.'"
Your brain on meditation
Of course, this obsession with meditation didn't come out of thin air—years of scientific research has shown that meditation reduces stress, improves concentration, and increases happiness.
As Dr. Lombardo explains it, "Several areas of the brain appear to be influenced by meditation. The prefrontal cortex, which is involved in executive functioning such as planning and problem solving, has increased activity. There is also increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is located between the cognitive and emotional brain centers and plays a role in self-regulation of emotions. At the same time, the fight-or-flight center called the amygdala shrinks, resulting in reduced anxiety and stress."
In less scientific terms, this means that tons of areas of the brain benefit from the effects of meditation, leaving us calmer, more emotionally stable people.
You've also probably heard of dopamine, or the "happy chemical." When you meditate, your dopamine levels rise quite a bit. One study on yoga nidra (a meditative yoga practice) found that people's dopamine levels rose 65 percent after class.
Workplaces and meditation
Workplaces have certainly noticed that meditation is having a moment. In an attempt to keep employees happy and productive, many of them provide meditation programs. Google has a mindfulness program that includes daily meditations, mindful lunches, meditative walks, and a larger meditation program called "Search Inside Yourself," or SIY.
Technical clothing company Kit and Ace also puts a huge emphasis on meditation—they even make their clothing with the idea that customers will meditate in them in mind. "At Kit and Ace, we incorporate it into both our in-store programming and corporate culture because we believe meditation is an essential tool for our employees and our customers," says Shawna Olsten, VP of brand.
Even if they don't have meditation programs built into their structure, some employers provide rooms for meditation and encourage employees to use them as often as possible—mindbodygreen included!
Kick-starting your meditation practice
As popular as meditation is, it's intimidating to get started—especially at a time when being alone with your thoughts might not be appealing. Dr. Lombardo encourages anyone who is feeling like this to just get started. "A lot of people don't try meditation or give up on it quickly when they do not think they are doing it 'right,'" she says. "Any meditation is better than no meditation. Don't have 30 minutes to sit in quiet? Fifteen minutes is better than nothing (or, as I say, better than perfect). Don't feel like you are getting the benefits? Everyone's mind wanders during meditation—that's normal. It doesn't have to be perfect. Just practice and it will get better."
If the prospect of meditation is intimidating to you, consider getting start with a meditation app like Headspace, Calm, or Insight Timer.
"I think the interesting phenomenon of today is that we're coming up with innovative new entry points," says Max Vallot, co-founder of District Vision, a company that sells athletic eyewear. "Whether it's apps, large-scale events, or meditation as movement, it's something we're experimenting with intensely."
What are you waiting for? Get out your cushion, close your eyes, and breathe.
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