Meditation and mindfulness are two practices that have become increasingly recognised for their innate ability to induce lasting inner changes. Previously viewed as woo-woo and pseudoscience for some time, it is actually based on principles and its effects can be described scientifically. Doing meditation doesn’t mean just sitting, but it implies that you are working WITH your brain. In working with your brain, or any other system in the body for that matter, it is good to understand its main cycles and functions.
The brain is binded to the day-night cycle of the Earth and works on different frequencies, which have different effects on your cognitive functions. These brainwaves are your body’s primary mode during your wake time, representing your normal, alert state. There are low, mid and high frequency beta brainwaves, which scale depending on the stressors in your environment.
Low frequency beta is your normal alert state, while mid and high frequencies go towards the stress response (i.e a dog attacks you on the street and you start running - this is an example of high frequency beta). In essence, moving into the state of beta, your brain becomes more alert, aware and responsive to the outer world.
Next up we have alpha brainwaves, which you usually tap into before falling asleep at night.
In moments of bliss and relaxation during wake time, you can tap into these frequencies occasionally. Remember that one time you were walking down the street with your headphones on and you started daydreaming? This is the state of alpha.
Thirdly, we have theta brainwaves which you tap into before deep sleep, or during naps. Theta can also be reached during states of deep meditation and daydreaming. With control properly established, tapping into theta can allow you to detach from the worries about the past and the future, and utilize your creative energy better.
Another state of your brainwave cycle is delta, where you have no bodily awareness whatsoever and are not conscious. We can refer to the state of delta as your dreamless, deep sleep state a couple of hours after going to bed. Delta brainwaves are the slowest frequency waves, which allow for deep bodily recovery.
There are also gamma brainwaves which are of the highest frequency and very similar to beta. However, they are just the opposite, as high frequency beta makes you alert for the outer environment, while gamma allows you to place your attention on the inner world. Gamma brainwaves induce the so-called “introspective mode” and can be reached during really deep states of meditation. These brainwaves are associated with higher levels of consciousness, mystical experiences, hyper concentration and focus.
The goal of meditation is to help you get out of beta and tap into more relaxed states. During normal daily meditation, you are mainly working in a state of alpha, but during prolonged meditation and deep relaxation, you can tap into theta. Generally, you shouldn’t really be concerned with your brainwaves, but rather the state you’re in and the feeling of it. The brainwaves change as the day goes by and it is a constant cycle of delta-theta-alpha-beta-alpha-theta-delta.
If the goal is to work in the alpha & theta zones, this means that doing your main meditations at morning or at night, means that you are automatically in the desired brainwave frequencies, as you can catch theta and alpha before you’re fully alert and awake. You can also consider meditating deep into your wake day and especially during states of high-frequency beta (higher stress levels).
This will allow you to regulate your response to outer stressors and in turn, manage the impact stress has on you. Though meditation is usually done in a quiet, isolated place, inducing a meditative state when your senses are bombarded with information, will help you become more resilient mentally.
There are several forms of meditation, with most aiming to rid all your senses of information and turn your attention on the inside. This allows you to observe your thought and emotional processes objectively and induce changes on demand, if you are in the right state. For this reason concentrative forms of meditation are best done in a quiet, isolated environment, where you have little to no sensory information to process. Mindfulness meditation aims to help you regulate your reaction and response to certain stressors in the environment, when your senses are loaded with information. You can think of concentrative meditation as something that allows you to go really deep into your subconscious and induce lasting changes, while Mindfulness meditation is a tool for daily stress management.
Contrary to popular belief, the goal of meditation is NOT to empty your mind, but rather observe what’s happening in there and work with that.
Here is our 10 step concentrative meditation, which you can add to your daily routine:
- Find a quiet place, sit or lay down comfortably and close your eyes
- Try and observe the inner chatter that’s happening in your head
- Pay attention to your body and feel the places where tension is held
- Take a deep breath for 4-5 seconds, slowly
- Exhale for the same amount of time and relax all the tense areas of the body
- Repeat this until your entire body is relaxed
- Now, pay attention to your heart (you can even place your palm on your heart to bring your attention there)
- Focus all your attention on your heart center and with each breath, relax further
- If any intrusive thoughts come to mind, do not latch onto them
- Instead of creating a story in your mind, simply swipe those thoughts away and bring your attention back to your heart and your breath
During meditation, you observe the thought process and eventually end up in a deeply relaxed state, where your thought process changes and becomes more visual and heart-felt, rather than verbal.
As we mentioned, mindfulness meditation can be a viable tool when the task at hand is to manage stress.
Below is our 3 step guide to applying this technique
- As you go through your wake day, become aware of your awareness
- Whenever a stressful situation manifests in your experience, try and buffer the immediate, automatic reaction
- Sit down with the situation in mind and neutrally think of the best possible solutions
- Try and not let the automatic emotional responses take over, as they will induce unneeded stress
The loop here is quite simple - Observe, buffer the automatic, negative reactions and CHOOSE to respond differently. Repeat.
Meditation is one of the best practices anyone can implement in their life, to improve its overall quality. For the most part, we have deeply encoded, automatic reactions and responses to various things we encounter during wake time. The goal of meditation is to help you bypass those automatic patterns and take on new, conscious decisions. You can do so during stressful situations, at the moment of occurrence by using the mindfulness meditation, but you can also take your time to reflect on things that happened, by utilizing the concentration meditation technique. Experient with different forms of meditation and see what works best for you.