I often ask people why they exercise. The most common response is that it helps them stay healthy and alleviates stress. Then I ask them if they work out their brain, which invokes a more confused response. If our bodies deserve to be worked out and improved, why don’t our brains?
Meditation is the cardio of mental fitness. In the moment, it relaxes us and focuses our breathing, allowing us to reflect on the day. In the longer term, meditation aids mindfulness and stress management, boosts concentration levels and clears our thought processes, helping us to be better leaders and decision-makers. One Harvard study suggests that it changes our brain structure, giving us more of nerve connections in the part of the brain that controls executive functioning and attention.
The workout plan
Take small steps. Meditate each day for one minute. With your eyes open or closed, sit with your back straight and look ahead. Be aware of your breath. Inhale slowly, hold your breath for a couple of seconds and exhale. Use your breathing to count to ten and start again, focusing on how your breath is filling and leaving your body. Repeat this for about a minute.
One aim of meditation is clearing your mind of thoughts. However, this is something that comes in time – don’t be put off if you can’t immediately switch off. If you’d like some guidance, try an app like Headspace.
Like any exercise, meditation works best when it’s done regularly. Try integrating it into your morning or evening routine. Starting is the hardest part, but meditation is worth the patience. Mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness, and your brain should be treated as a muscle just as much as your hamstring or bicep.
Your brain is like your body – it needs training, stretching and toning. Start flexing today.