VJ and I were best friends in college but lost touch over the past two decades, given our busy work and family schedules. VJ works at a Silicon Valley startup, and we recently met back up at a mutual friend’s son’s wedding. We spent quality time catching up on diverse topics, from movies to politics and sports to spirituality.
We also spent a considerable time discussing mindful meditation practices. Interestingly, VJ was considering introducing these practices at his workplace but wanted to experience the benefits firsthand. Understanding that I am a serious practitioner of mindful meditation, he asked for an overview and background.
Our conversation flowed as follows:
VJ: Sarvesh, it’s great to hear that you practice mindfulness meditation every day. What is your advice for a beginner like me?
Sarvesh: Sure, VJ; here are some simple steps you can follow:
- Commit about 15 to 20 minutes daily. As you get comfortable, you can increase this duration.
- The best time to practice is in the morning (preferably before you start your workday).
- Find a safe, quiet, and comfortable place. Meditation is done in the sitting posture only, so make sure you can sit comfortably for 15 to 20 mins.
- Take a few deep breaths… for about 2 to 3 minutes. Ensure you do not feel drowsy.
- Now set the timer to 15 or 20 minutes.
- Breathe deliberately and consciously. Inhale 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Hold 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Exhale 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Keep repeating this pattern for the duration.
- Focus on this breath cycle.
- Observe your thoughts, emotions, and body sensations without judgment or reaction. It might be tempting to react to thoughts, emotions, or body sensations, but refrain from doing this during this time. Assure yourself that you will take care of any pressing thoughts, emotions, or sensations after the session.
- Continue to keep observing the breath. It is okay if the thoughts are overwhelming you; just bring your mind back to the breath.
- These 15 to 20 minutes might seem like forever. But that is also okay. By paying attention to the present without any judgment or distraction, you are developing awareness of the present moment with openness and curiosity (as opposed to evaluation or criticism). By not reacting and suspending judgment of the present moment (including thoughts, emotions, and body sensations), you are developing an attitude of acceptance without trying to change or judge it.
- You may find it challenging to sit for 15 minutes at first (first few days) but commit to staying as long as possible. If you need to break in the middle, that is fine, but next time you sit for meditation, try to stay longer than before with the ultimate goal of sitting for the target duration.
- Daily practice is critical to reap the benefits of mindfulness.
VJ: Benefits? I love benefits. Can you tell me more?
Sarvesh: Sure. By practicing mindfulness daily (for at least 15 to 20 minutes), one can experience the following scientifically proven benefits:
- Reduced stress and anxiety: Mindful meditation can decrease activity in the amygdala, the brain region responsible for processing emotions like fear and anxiety. This helps to regulate stress response and reduce overall stress levels.
- Better emotional regulation and resilience: Mindful meditation can strengthen the prefrontal cortex, which performs critical functions like decision-making, emotional regulation, and self-control. This can lead to a remarkable ability to manage emotions and respond (intelligently) rather than react (impulsively) to challenging situations. By training one’s mind to accept and observe experiences non-judgmentally, one can also develop emotional resilience, making it easier to cope with adverse life events and recover from adversity effectively.
- Increased self-awareness: Mindful meditation can enhance activity in the brain regions responsible for self-awareness. This can lead to a deeper understanding and management of one’s thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations.
- Enhanced attention and focus: Daily meditation can increase activity in the brain’s limbic system region responsible for attention and focus. This can result in better concentration and cognitive performance in daily life.
- Enhanced neuroplasticity: Daily mindful meditation promotes neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change and adapt to our life experiences. Irrespective of age, neuroplasticity improves learning, memory, and overall cognitive performance.
- Reduced rumination: Daily practice of mediation can help decrease activity in the default mode network (a brain circuitry) associated with mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts. This can lead to reduced rumination and a more balanced mental state.
Other benefits in the workplace setting include:
- Openness to innovation: Mindfulness involves cultivating an open and curious attitude (without judgment) toward the present moment. This enables the teams to be more receptive to innovative ideas and better manage uncertainties (especially in the startup environment).
- Self-compassion: Mindfulness involves treating oneself with kindness and compassion rather than judgment or criticism. This can help the practitioners to be more accepting of themselves and their own experiences, reducing the need to compare themselves with others.
- Reduce implicit biases: Mindful practice can help teams to cultivate feelings of empathy, gratitude and compassion, which can counter the effects of our implicit biases.
All in all, mindful practices can lead to overall improvements in emotional well-being and quality of life.
VJ: Thanks Sarvesh for advising me on mindfulness meditation and its benefits. I will start practicing very soon.
Sarvesh: Any time, VJ! Good luck and best wishes!