I was listening to an interview Tim Ferriss had with Arnold Schwarzenegger this week and was surprised to learn that Arnold meditated twice a day for 20 minutes each session for a year – in the 1970’S!
Can’t you just picture the Terminator meditating? Yeah, me neither.
In the 1970’s, Arnold’s career really started to come together. He was having great success in real estate (who knew), his body building and his movie career started to gain traction and take off.
With all that opportunity, Arnold struggled to keep everything separate in his mind and was increasingly anxious, worried and overwhelmed. He decided to give meditation a try and after a few weeks of meditating twice a day, he was able to disconnect and rejuvenate his mind.
Arnold also credits Meditation with increasing his focus and helping him to stay calm through all the challenges that were coming at him. Arnold says that even today he benefits from that year of meditation and is able to keep things from merging together and causing him stress and anxiety. He is able to take one challenge at a time, fully focus on his current activity and then reset his brain and move on to the next challenge.
Meditation has been around for thousands of years, but it has really become more mainstream in places like the United States within the last few years.
But is it worth the effort?
It turns out that study after study shows numerous benefits on health and well-being. Research across 19 universities and over a span of more than a decade show that experienced meditators see significant changes in their brain structure and function.
One study showed that a group of participants that averaged 27 minutes a day practicing mindfulness exercises experienced increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus part of the brain. This area is known to be important for learning, memory, self-awareness and introspection. They also reported reductions in stress and decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala which is known to play a role in anxiety and stress.
Who couldn’t use more focus and less stress these days?
There are different types of meditation, below are two examples:
Mindfulness – This approach focuses on the awareness of thoughts, sensations and particularly emotions that you are experiencing at any given moment. The key is a deliberate focus on being less emotionally reactive to the particular emotion or thought in the moment. Research has shown this type of approach to lead to decreased brain activity in areas related to anxiety. It has also shown to lead to an increased brain volume in the prefrontal cortex. This area is responsible for executive function and plays a strong role in focus, attention and processing sensory information. Meditators also had a decrease activity in the amygdala, the part of your brain responsible for processing fear among other things.
Focused attention – The focus of this type of meditation is to quiet and center your mind and fully focus on the present moment. As distractions arise (they always do), you simply refocus your attention. By choosing to focus on one thing and one thing only, you are able to begin to quiet down the mind. There are multiple options for your area of focus. Some focus on their breath, others a word or “mantra”. Some will even use the image of an imaginary or real object. When your focus shifts, you get distracted, or random thoughts start popping up (which will happen), you gently come back to your object of focus. It is that simple.
If you are new to meditation and want to give it a shot, don’t overthink it. Keep it simple and just give it a try. You don’t need a special room, special pose, or fancy incense or rocks.
There are 1,440 minutes in a day. Start with 10 minutes and give it a shot!
If you are having an especially hectic day and only have 2 minutes, take those two minutes. Close your eyes, take deep breathes and for those 2 precious minutes, just focus on your breath and only on your breath. You will notice that it can really help calm you down, reduce some of the overwhelm and get you back on track – in a very short period of time.
If you would like some extra help, there are many apps you can download for your phone that offer guided meditations, many of them free. Pandora even has a “Calm Meditation” station that I used just yesterday.
If Arnold can meditate, so can you!
Your partner in success,