I think that some people hear the word meditation and what they hear is “New Agey Psychobabble”. I did too. For a long time.
Then Science started speaking up. Persistent and innumerable anecdotal claims about meditation’s effectiveness forced researchers to take a closer look. The results are in. Meditation, and especially mindfulness meditations, have a profound and positive impact on the brain, on mental health, and on life satisfaction. There are even studies that demonstrate a lowered risk for secondary heart problems in people who have trained in mindfulness for just 12 weeks!
Meditation is effective for at least two reasons. First, it creates a relaxation response in the body. (You can learn more about the importance of the resting response on our physical and mental health here.) Quieting the body returns the system to a resting response, the place it should sit most of the time. Unfortunately, the fast-paced nature of most of our lives means that we are in a chronically heightened state of physiological reactivity. Research suggests that this inhibits our immune systems, creates a chronic unhealthy inflammation response, results in heightened levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), and increases anxiety, agitation, and anger.
In addition to the more general benefits, meditation often allows people to pair a relaxation response with some life issue that is troubling them. Thinking about something upsetting, while calming the body, creates a conditioned response such that same upsetting issue causes less and less of an upset response. This decrease in triggered response allows us to approach difficult life issues with perspective and a sense of calm.
One of the most powerful meditations I’ve come across is the Loving Kindness meditation. I first heard it done by Pema Chodron. Intended to help meditators foster feelings of love and kindness, I often use it to help clients replace hateful or hurtful self-talk with a more compassionate and effective way of speaking to themselves, or parts of themselves, they struggle to work with. Yelling at yourself for picking up that extra cookie doesn’t actually stop the behavior. In fact, over the long term, it makes it worse. If instead, you approached that part of you that struggles to stop <insert your problematic behavior here> with kindness, understanding, and curiosity, you might learn what need that behavior is trying to serve and you might be able to work WITH rather than against it, to meet that need in a healthy way.
This meditation can be a powerful way to approach finding a more compassionate, and more effective way, to relate to oneself or others. I hope you find it helpful.