E12 – Meditation Changes Your Brain

Episode 12 . 18:03

E12 - Meditation Changes Your Brain - transcript:

What is up, my friends? Welcome to speak easy English. Today we talk about meditation.

Thank you for joining us on another episode. This podcast is designed to help intermediate English learners become completely fluent by listening to English every day. Last week, we talked about what mindfulness is – and why that matters – why you should even care about living “mindfully”. (If you have not listened to last week’s episode, go check it out now and then come back to this episode.) 

On today’s episode, we are going to learn about the benefits of mindfulness meditation and we will learn how to start practicing mindfulness meditation. The free transcripts of this episode and all of our episodes are available as always on our website, speakeasyenglish.club. That is, speakeasyenglish.club. 

If you enjoy this topic, there is so much to talk about with mindfulness and meditation. Let me know. Shoot me an email and maybe we can do another episode about a different aspect of mindfulness or meditation. Today, we will just give a very basic overview of mindfulness practice. That is, mindfulness meditation, and some of the big benefits that can bring into your life. Alright, let’s get to it. 

Last week we spoke in general about what mindfulness means and what it means to live mindfully. But what is mindfulness meditation? What does it mean to practice mindfulness meditation? In very simple terms, it is taking some amount of time to concentrate completely on what is happening in each moment. Concentrating completely on each moment is difficult. Our minds are always trying to pull us away. Getting lost in thought is normal. It happens to us nonstop. Often we start thinking without knowing we are thinking. Mindfulness meditation is “paying attention” to each moment and noticing when thoughts arise, or noticing when we have been pulled into thought, and then coming back to the present moment instead of being lost in thought. This practice of noticing when your mind has wandered and then coming back to the present moment (that is, coming back to reality), this practice of noticing and coming back over and over again, that is mindfulness meditation. You are exercising your ability to notice when thoughts arise and to notice when you become distracted or lost in thought and then to come back to the present moment. 

It’s funny. When I suggest meditation to people, the most common response that I get is that people say, “Oh, I can’t do that. My mind is always wandering.” Or “My mind is all over the place, so I can’t do that.” To me, that response is hilarious. It is comical. It’s like saying, “I can’t start exercising because I am not in good shape.” Or, “I can’t go to the gym because I’m not in good physical shape.” It’s like, yeah, that’s the point in exercising, right? To get in shape! And similarly, mindfulness meditation is exercising your ability to stop those compulsive, nonstop, racing thoughts. Every time you catch your mind wandering into thought and you notice it and you come back to the present moment – every single time you do that – is like one repetition at the gym, right? That’s like one “set” of an exercise, but for your mind. And as you do this practice repeatedly, you will get better and better at noticing when you start thinking unintentionally – when you start thinking, without knowing you are thinking. As I said in the last episode, thinking without knowing you are thinking is also called distraction. And that is the problem. When we are distracted, we are no longer paying attention to what is happening in the present moment. We stop paying attention to what is actually happening in our real life, right now. 

Okay, so now I will give you just a few of the benefits of mindfulness meditation. So, mindfulness meditation practice has demonstrated benefits to reduce your stress and anxiety and improve your focus and concentration, and also improve your emotional resilience. That is, your mental health. It allows you to observe negative thoughts without being consumed by them. On the web page with the transcript, I will include some links, including one to a Harvard study. In the eight week study, participants that practiced mindfulness meditation for 20 to 30 minutes per day not only reported improvements in their anxiety, stress level, general well being, attention span, and ability to focus, but also, they did brain scans of the participants. And those in the group practicing mindfulness meditation actually had increased gray matter density in the area of the brain important for learning and memory, and in the areas associated with self awareness, compassion, and introspection. They also noticed decreased gray matter density in the area important for anxiety and stress. In other words, the daily practice of mindfulness meditation literally changed the brain! The benefits of mindfulness meditation are not just anecdotes. They are not just statements by people who favor the practice. No, they are actually observable in brain scans that show that daily mindfulness meditation improves the areas of the brain associated with learning, memory, self awareness, and compassion. And it shrinks the area of the brain responsible for anxiety and stress. That is incredible! 

So between last episode and this episode, so far, we have established that mindfulness is very important and that practicing mindfulness meditation every day has huge benefits for your mind and your general well being. So how do we start practicing mindfulness meditation? I will give you a brief and very simple way to start practicing mindfulness meditation. Now, I am not an expert and I am not a guru. This is just one very simple, common way to start practicing mindfulness meditation. 

  1. So first, you find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed or interrupted during your meditation. 
  2. Second, get comfortable, sit down. I recommend sitting in a chair with a back so that you are supported upright. But make sure you are comfortable. And I recommend sitting up so that you are not tempted to fall asleep. 
  3. Next, set a timer for how long you want to meditate. I recommend starting with five or ten minutes in the beginning and gradually (that means bit by bit) you can increase that amount of time as you get more comfortable with the practice. Setting a timer also has the benefit that you no longer have to think about when you might be done. You don’t have to worry about wondering if enough time has passed. The timer will tell you when you are done. 
  4. Next, I recommend closing your eyes and bringing your full attention to your breath. Now, you don’t want to change your breath at all. You just want to observe your breath. So you want to notice the sensation of air moving in and out of your body. You can focus on your nostrils, your nose, or you could focus on your mouth if you’re breathing in and out of your mouth, or you could focus on how it feels in your lungs with each inhale and each exhale. It does not matter where you put your focus, as long as your entire focus is on the sensation of breathing. 
  5. Now, when you start to do this, within seconds, thoughts will inevitably appear in your mind. You might notice them as soon as they arise, or you might catch yourself some seconds or minutes later, and realize that you are daydreaming, you are thinking and no longer paying attention to your breath. When this happens, don’t worry. Simply notice the thought and then gently bring your attention back to your breath. Do not judge the thought and do not judge yourself. Just notice the thought and then come back to the breath. This will happen over and over again for as long as you practice meditation. In fact, this practice of noticing thoughts and then returning to the present moment, (in this case, that means returning to your breath), this practice of noticing and returning to the present moment, that is the point. That is exactly what we are doing here. That is the mental exercise that will help you to develop your ability to live mindfully, instead of being swept away in thought, unconsciously and unintentionally. 
  6. Continue doing this, focusing on your breath for the rest of the meditation. Your mind will repeatedly wander. And that’s okay. Just try to notice, observe the thought and return to the present moment. Sometimes it helps to label what you notice in each moment. So if you find yourself planning the rest of the day, you can mentally label that as “thinking” and then come back to the breath. If you find yourself becoming impatient and ready to be done and move on to the next activity, you can mentally say “impatience” and label your thoughts and your observations in this way. You can even use this sort of mental labeling for physical sensations that grab your attention and distract you from your breath. For example, if you feel pain, you can say “pain” and observe that sensation and then gently come back to the breath. 
  7. When the timer goes off, open your eyes and take a minute or two to notice how you feel. You may not feel anything in particular at first. But over time, if you are paying attention, you will start to notice these benefits of focus, reduced stress, reduced anxiety, and a higher level of self awareness. Remember, mindfulness meditation is not trying to suppress your thoughts, it is not trying to stop thinking, but instead to become aware of when you start thinking, so that you can observe these thoughts and emotions instead of being accidentally kidnapped by them. Over time, you will find that you are able to stay present in your daily life and stay focused for longer and longer periods of time. And this ability will improve the quality of almost every aspect of your life. 
  8. Try to create a routine and aim for something reasonable. Aim for ten minutes per day in the beginning and build from there. You can increase the amount of time you spend meditating gradually and eventually. The goal is that this mindfulness – and this ability to stay present – becomes a part of your entire life and not just those 10 minutes or 20 minutes when you are intentionally practicing. 

Alright guys. Thank you so much for listening to this entire episode. I really appreciate you being here and listening till the end. As always, check out the transcripts and read the transcripts of this episode. Reading, in addition to active listening, will help you become completely fluent in English naturally, easily, and automatically. Also, don’t forget to listen to this episode multiple times. Spaced repetition is super important, so don’t forget. Listen again tomorrow. Maybe listen again next week, but definitely repeat every episode multiple times. If you enjoy having this free resource, please also leave a review. Five star reviews help immensely with gaining visibility in all of the podcast platforms that you love to use. Thank you so much and we will see you in the next episode. Cheers!