Much has already been written about the benefits of meditation. Since a 2005 study by neuroscientist Sara Lazar showed that meditating can literally change the structure of the brain, reinforcing certain areas that have to do with the control of attention and emotions, other research has only abounded in the same idea: meditation is a very useful tool to improve our levels of consciousness, attention and emotional self-regulation.
The main obstacle to introducing this practice in the day to day is perseverance. The Meditation benefits can be noticed from the first session, especially in terms of well-being and immediate relaxation. But, according to science, it takes at least eight weeks of continuous practice, for half an hour a day, for the changes to be real, measurable and with repercussions on our behavior. That is the time it takes for the cerebral cortex to strengthen itself, especially in the key areas that control our attention and emotions. And here, in general, is where we fail.
Who else, who less, has ever tried to meditate in his life. The pandemic, and the consequent pandemic fatigue, interest in this practice has further increased. Andrés Martín Asuero, director of the EsMindfulness Institute and author of the meditation manual Full mind (Diana) notes that the number of people who want to start meditating is increasing, “although it is not clear to me that perseverance and commitment to the practice has increased,” he warns.
And he continues: “Many people are doing it; I really believe that meditation and yoga have become very popular since the initial and subsequent confinement. Those who practice it find peace and quiet with these practices and they are becoming fond of it ”, he assures.
But the truth is that, at the present time, we bear such a mental load that we often are not even able to find holes to breathe in our busy schedules. This is where micromeditation, a trend that is not new but is gaining relevance again, could come into play.
In essence, micromeditations are small practices, lasting a few minutes, that we can use to redirect attention, gain energy and become aware of our body and emotions, which leads us to a more serene and happy state of mind. Best of all, they can be done anywhere, even while we’re working, in a short space of time.
“We know that meditating is a great psychological tool to keep the effects of pandemic fatigue at bay, just like the anxiety or stress, and that also helps us to live the present moment with much more serenity and with more focus ”, says Alba Valle, a psychologist specializing in mindfulness and meditation at Loca Sabidencia.
For people who have not yet started in the practice of meditation and who can only dedicate a few minutes throughout the day, micromeditations can be the solution to maintain mental health in good condition. As Valle explains, “making small stops on a day-to-day basis and regulate breathing in these and the sensations without judging them ”is really useful.
There are different types of micromeditation exercises depending on personal preferences and the specific objectives pursued, but in all cases “they are effective psychological tools if they are carried out correctly,” says Valle.
The psychologist recommends incorporating micromeditations of one to three minutes in daily life. These practices help to “stop the automatic pilot and learn to manage our experiences, our emotions and our thoughts of that moment in a more conscious and more useful way”, she specifies.
His approach to starting and gradually incorporating this activity into his daily routine consists of making around six stops throughout the day, thus dedicating a total of 12 minutes a day to this activity. The ideal would be to extend the time of the short periods as the person gains experience, and gradually dedicate longer and less frequent periods.
The micromeditations are “a bridge to reach the longer meditations that need more dedication, so that when you get to them, you already have a good practice acquired, you have already made ‘muscle'”, explains the psychologist.
The most difficult thing when it comes to adopting the habit of performing micromeditations daily “is usually remembering to do them; but when you do, the effect is healing ”, emphasizes Alba Valle.
As a meditation instructor, Valle advises against entering meditation with long sessions. “Rather, it’s like getting to know someone little by little, having moments with that person and, one day, we can go on vacation together, but spending so much time with someone we don’t know right away may not be the best option. ”.
Ideas for micromediting
The proposal of the psychologist Alba Valle is based on getting out of the ‘doing way’, continuously thinking about the future, fear, worries and everything that is to be done, and stimulating the ‘mindful way’, which would be “ being, being at peace in this moment, with the thoughts and feelings that one has ”.
1 Do a body scan. One way to achieve this is to perform a brief “body scan” by taking three breaths and observing the sensations that are present in the feet, ankles, calves, knees … and for a moment neglect the noise of the mind to make this trip to through the senses and connecting with the body. This can be done in three minutes.
two Breathe and listen. Another micromeditation can be simply taking three breaths and paying attention to the surrounding sounds that we perceive.
3 Repeat a mantra. A third option would be to breathe and say a mantra internally and let yourself be “soaked” by its meaning. For example: “everything is fine” or “I’m here with me.”
These three micro-meditations last approximately one to three minutes and Valle recommends doing them several times a day: for example, when getting out of bed, before starting work and when finishing, late in the day …
Later, they can be made compatible with others for 10 to 20 minutes and, progressively, lengthen the times as we feel comfortable meditating.
Dr. Martín Asuero warns: “The micromeditations are a way to start, but their effect is limited. They serve as a starter, but there is no scientific evidence that they work long-term with less than 20 minutes per session. In my opinion, short meditations serve as emotional regulation, as do yoga and other informal mindfulness practices, which is frankly fine. But they are not practices that lead us to change perceptions, unhealthy habits or personality, something that longer practices do, such as MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) ”, he assures.
And he emphasizes: “Short meditations have more value when they can be properly contextualized and, therefore, the best results of meditation practice occur when it becomes a habit. This is easier if you practice with a teacher, instructor or, at least, with a book. There are very few people who can develop the habit on their own. For this reason, it is ideal to take a course or at least use a book as support to start, and thus develop this habit, which is the source of well-being ”, he concludes.
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh recounted that when boats full of Vietnamese refugees encountered storms or pirates, it was very easy for them to sink if all the passengers panicked at the same time and infected each other. On the other hand, if a single person remained centered and calm, that could be enough to keep the ship afloat because, with their behavior, that person was showing others the way to survive. Why is it so difficult for us to be that person and persist on the path?
The impact on the brain
Eight weeks of meditation may be enough, according to brain scans carried out in different studies, to reduce the activity of a key region of the brain: the amygdala.
The amygdala is our detector for potential threats, and it is dedicated to scanning the environment for potential dangers. When it detects one, it is responsible for promoting our fight or flight response, which includes the release of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. The amygdala is thus the glue that holds our attention to the threat detected and makes it difficult for us to focus on anything other than that.
It is not surprising that in the current circumstances it is difficult for so many people to stop thinking about everything related to the virus, the uncertainty and the losses that it has brought with it. We are literally glued to potential threats that we constantly perceive in the environment. Y a mind in constant looping state it is a less careful mind. The boat, in this state, will only capsize.
Another study from 2015 also showed that being able to direct attention through meditation is associated with more loving behavior towards oneself and towards others. Something that might be very useful in the circumstances that we are going through.
Two short meditations proposed by Dr. Martín Asuero and that can be used to start us, are:
Two short meditations
These are the proposals of Andrés Martín Asuero that can serve to initiate us in meditation.
1. Bring your attention to your breath. In this link Martín Asuero guides us in a ten minute meditation based on taking twenty conscious breaths.
two. Resilience A very necessary practice at this time, since resilience is the ability to face difficulties creatively, to overcome anguish and get the best out of each one. Resilience is a skill that can be trained and this short 15 minute practice can be a good way to do it.
Source: La Vanguardia