Think your mind has to be "quiet" without any thoughts to meditate? Think again! Its natural for your mind to race with thoughts about laundry or tomorrow's schedule, mainly because you haven't learned to activate your mind in a focused way yet. It sounds like super power stuff, but you really can do this with short, daily meditation.
Meditate (med·i·tate | \ ˈme-də-ˌtāt): precise technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is totally different from the normal waking state
Meditation In The Brain & How It Helps Headaches
According to Dr. Rebecca Gladding, after minutes of meditating with an intentional focus - mantra, breathing, etc. - the lateral prefrontal cortex lights up. This is where your rational thoughts come from, the ones that help you stop making mountains out of mole hills. With daily meditation, you can actually increase the gray matter of your brain in the areas that govern emotional stability and response control. Over time, this area is more easily activated, which may help you maintain a more balanced mental state. When you're more emotionally and mentally centered, your body can be more resilient if headache pain and stress factors arise. Besides the benefits of resiliency for headache management, research has also shown that a consistent daily meditation practice can reduce the severity and frequency of headaches.
Starting Your Meditation Practice
For maximum benefits, you'll want to practice meditating daily for at least 8 weeks. Before you let your "monkey mind" race about how you don't have time, know that I've got you. My meditation practice used to be non-existent with no intention of ever getting into it. As my asana and breathwork practice improved, meditation became the next natural addition. Once I tried it...I hated it, to be honest. But it was all due to my unrealistic expectations of myself and what meditation was. I thought I was a failure every time I sat down to meditate and my mind kept wandering.
Remember what I said at the beginning of this post - your mind doesn't have to be empty to meditate. Its all about focusing your mind's energy to observe without judgment. What does that mean? Say you're meditating using a candle flame as your focus point. As you watch the flame flicker, you might start thinking about your to do list. Instead of judging yourself and thinking "Crap, I just lost focus and now I have to start all over!", observe that you were planning and move back to meditation. My favorite way to start practicing the idea of observation without judging is with open monitoring. This practice brings awareness to how your mind works and retrains you to observe instead of interact with your thoughts.
How to Practice Open Monitoring
- Sit or lay down with your eyes closed. Breathe naturally and allow your body to start relaxing.
- Do a quick body scan. Notice any areas of tension or discomfort. Readjust your body or slowly stretch, if needed.
- Once you're comfortable, settle into your breathing. Deep and steady. Inhaling and exhaling through your nose.
- When thoughts enter your mind, silently to yourself name what is happening in the thought. From the to do list example above, that would be "Planning is happening". Once you name the thought, let it float by.
- Continue this practice for 1-15 minutes.
- When you're finished, take a deep inhale through your nose and an open-mouth exhale. Flutter your eyes open and smile.
This practice is beneficial for any amount of time that you have in your schedule. Its common for this to be difficult in the beginning, so don't get discouraged. As you cultivate your practice, you will be able to "drop in" to a meditative state without having as many initial wandering thoughts. One day, you may even tap into Dhyana, the seventh limb of yoga, where you don't even notice you're meditating. Cool, right?! Be compassionate to yourself as you practice. With each session, you're learning more about yourself and what is truly helpful for your body, mind, and spirit. That type of self-awareness is priceless and stays with you forever!
Hey! I'm Tiffany Lord, Yoga for Headaches guru and Founder of Love & Asana. My passion is helping people just like you learn easy ways to integrate yoga into your daily life to manage headaches and stress. Want help adding yoga to your lifestyle? Schedule a free 20-minute call to see if one of my programs is a good fit for you!