In our current fast-paced lives, increasing our stress decreases our ability to remember things and, therefore, decreases our working memory. The constant and chronic worries drag our mental state to drain our brainpower, leaving us without strength and the ability to function. The productivity expert Seth Gordon recommends that the IT department in companies disables email every day from 8-11 a.m. in order for people to do deep planned work¹. I recommend to disable instant notification email which flashes on your screen while you are working on a document. The time it takes to return to your train of thought will be three times greater than if you had continued without any distraction. As our life jams with the many devices that increase our stress, relaxation methods developed by many experts have started to appear at home and in workplaces as well. Many scientific studies conducted about relaxation and meditation have proved that these techniques play an important role in decreasing stress.
Meditation calms people down from daily stress. Practicing meditation on a daily basis achieves relaxation. After reading several books and scientific articles on meditation, I am quite convinced that meditation relieves our daily stress. The scientific literature presents strong evidence to the effect of meditation. Our efforts to prevent our thoughts from wandering, difficult to do, help to calm us down. Meditation causes less stress leading to better performance and more brainpower. Three main types of meditation can be found²:
- Focused attention meditation: The meditator focuses attention on an image or emotion (love or kindness, for example). The meditator tries to steer the attention back to the image if attention wanders.
- Open monitoring: In this type, a part of Buddhist mindfulness, the meditator pays attention to breathing, thoughts, sounds, and feelings without reacting. This usually activates the part of the brain (the frontal region of the brain) that regulates emotion. Mindful meditation increases the activity in the part of the brain responsible for decision-making and executive function, increasing the ability to focus. A study was conducted to measure the heartbeat of a Buddhist monk having a heated discussion with an argumentative and confrontational university professor; the professor’s heartbeat started off very fast during the conversation, but the monk’s stayed calm. The monk , with mindfulness training, enjoyed a sense of well-being despite the heated discussion³.
- Transcendental Meditation TM In this form of meditation, practitioners repeat a mantra that allows them to transcend to a calmer state with a sense of timelessness and peace– without sleep. This peace and calmness decrease reactivity to stimuli, keeping us in a better state to deal with stress. TM increases alpha brainwaves of the frontal region during the meditation practice and increases the lower part of the beta frequency (brainwaves are electrical activity produced by the outer layer of the brain (cerebral cortex) which can be measured by an electroencephalogram (EEG)). The spread of the alpha and beta brain waves continue even after meditation. I practice TM; sometimes I reach to deep relaxation, a sense of peace and safety, and the feeling of joy due to the disappearance of a heavy feeling in my chest. I feel as if I am waking up from a deep nap with a lot of energy or I have just finished my three-mile run where my endorphins are rushing into my bloodstream.
Although I am far from mastering the meditation skill, I know the more I practice, the better I will be. Sometimes I reach a limit of relaxation that I go to sleep which is not recommended. My two teachers suggested to continue meditating, after waking up, for additional minutes to compensate for the time spent sleeping. Losing time while meditating will slow your breathing and produce a slower pattern of brainwaves. In the meditation state, the frequency of brainwaves is 8-12 cycle/second compared to the alert state which is more or equal to 13 cycles/second. Coherence of the brainwaves is also produced by an increase of beta brainwaves which helps in the alert state. Coherent brainwaves were found to correlate with intelligence and competence. Research on mastering TM meditation found that even the beginner in TM meditation (a couple of weeks) has the brainwaves of TM meditators who have practiced for years, indicating that TM is a very easy skill to master compared with other kinds of meditation.
A study conducted on Norwegian top managers with skilled workers (accountants and engineers) on the coherence of brainwaves found that top manager’s brainwaves were found to be more coherent than skilled workers. Somehow the coherence of brain waves easily produced by TM indicated brain efficiency. Prefrontal areas of the brain (just behind the forehead) regulate emotions and impulses that are involved in creating a ranking system of importance that is crucial in decision-making. Alpha brainwaves on the other hand are responsible for creating calmness and beta brainwaves are involved in focusing and decision-making. The TM effect spreads alpha brainwaves of calmness across the brain and spreads beta brainwaves in a way that improves focus and decision-making.
Any of these three meditations will help. All of them increase the power to control our thoughts and allow our minds to relax.