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Elemental
Your life, sourced by science. A publication from Medium about health and wellness.

Meditation

In Elemental. More on Medium.

Stop trying to ‘empty your mind’ of thoughts. Think of barking dogs instead.

Photo: Robert Gramner/Unsplash

There are all kinds of reasons to meditate, but I’m going to be honest: There are probably more reasons not to do it.

It’s really hard. It’s not particularly fun. It’s not productive. It’s also just kind of boring. Every time I do it, there are usually five other things I’d rather do first.

For all of these reasons, I’m always wary of lifestyle journalism extolling meditation’s benefits as if it’s akin to jogging, or the copy of well-funded apps making meditation sound like a breezy self-help adventure. I find both unhelpful at best and off-putting at worst. The truth…


It’s not b.s. — the practice really can strengthen your mind like a muscle

Credit: Martin Puddy / Getty Images

Elemental

One of the oft-repeated pieces of advice on how to deal with pandemic stress is to meditate. This is not a new or groundbreaking tip — meditation practices such as mindfulness have been recommended for years to combat stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression. But now that many of our normal coping mechanisms have…


It may seem like a strange era to be mindful and present. But experts say it’s just the right time to meditate.

Close up of a young woman meditating at home.
Close up of a young woman meditating at home.
Photo: Marko Geber/Getty Images

A practice that makes a person more aware of what is happening in the world around them seems less than ideal when the world is on fire. However, many people are turning to meditation to cope with it all, with apps like Headspace, Calm, and Ten Percent Happier seeing a surge of new users turning inwards to create a sense of calm or inner compassion to help face the outside world. …


Here’s how to manage it if you experience an adverse reaction

Photo: madison lavern/Unsplash

One February night a few years ago, I sat on my bed and began taking deep breaths. Determined to finally get my escalating anxiety under control, I’d asked my therapist for the simplest path to mindfulness. She told me to start small, and that it was part of a practice. Which meant that it wasn’t an instant cure, but something that got stronger the more time you spent with it.

So I set my timer for about five minutes and vowed to stay in the moment. Eventually — whether over the next hundred seconds or several hundred weeks — my…


The connection between attention, awareness, and emotion

Photo: piranka/Getty Images

Imagine your doctor told you they had a magic pill that would make you feel much better. It would improve your concentration and sleep, improve your relationships, and generally make you feel happier and more content throughout the inevitable stresses and strains of life. There would be no negative side effects and it would be absolutely free. Would you take it? I’d bet yes.

Though not a pill, this hypothetical magic solution exists. It is called meditation.

Interest in meditation and mindfulness has increased steadily in the West for the last few decades. However, most people still report having only…


One biohacker’s quest to change her brain through meditation

The author tracking her brainwaves. Photo courtesy of author

We live in an era of big data. We track what we buy, what we eat, the quality of our sleep, how much we exercise, and on and on. So it’s no wonder the data-driven world has found its way into a tradition that goes back thousands of years to yogis in caves searching for enlightenment. That’s right, we now have the means to track our meditation patterns too.

In early 2019, as a scientist and self-professed biohacker, I found myself searching for ways to hack my brain, stop endless recursive mind chatter, improve my overall sense of happiness and…


Meditation has a slew of health benefits, but not everyone likes doing it. Here are some worthy alternatives.

Photo: Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd/Getty Images

It took decades for modern society to accept the idea that closing your eyes and breathing deeply could change your life. Today, meditation is considered a mainstream wellness practice. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of meditating Americans rose from 4% to 14%, according to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s likely due in part because the practice is now hailed as a remedy for stress, anxiety, depression, pain, insomnia, and more.

But for some people, meditation isn’t so simple. The sitting still, ignoring mental chatter, and being nonjudgmental can take more time to…


Welcome to the new world of brain-sensing and brain-training devices

Chris Aimone and Ariel Garten, cofounders of InteraXon, are sitting down in seated positions wearing the Muse headband.
Chris Aimone and Ariel Garten, cofounders of InteraXon, are sitting down in seated positions wearing the Muse headband.
Chris Aimone (left) and Ariel Garten, cofounders of InteraXon, developed the Muse headband designed to help you meditate. Photo: Melissa Renwick/Toronto Star/Getty

It’s 4 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon and I’m sitting on the couch, surrounded by the noises of a virtual rainstorm. I’m wearing a metallic headband that loops behind my ears and across my forehead, stuck tight to my skin with suction. As I sit still, the headband hums slightly, collecting data about my brain through EEG sensors. When my brain becomes more active — specifically when my dog drops a toy on my lap or when I’m thinking about what to make for dinner — the sound of the rainstorm increases to a loud din. When I focus on…


Meditation apps like Headspace and Calm are helping people relax. What makes the voices they use — now including Matthew McConaughey’s — so hypnotizing?

Meditation is a practice that’s inherently free, yet millions of people are turning to apps — and paying subscription fees — to learn the craft and ideally turn it into a life-changing habit. The two biggest players here are Calm and Headspace, which promise less stress, more happiness, and better sleep from their guided meditations and other in-app features.

Thanks in part to the accessibility of these apps, meditation and mindfulness have moved from being buzzwords to being habits. Calmness-seekers are shelling out anywhere from $59.99 (for Calm premium) to $96 annually (for Headspace premium). …


The Nuance

Some factors to help you figure it out

Credit: Westend61/Getty Images

Pick an ailment, mental or physical, and there’s probably research that shows meditation can treat it. Studies have found that meditation can help people with depression, pain disorders, anxiety, insomnia, and high blood pressure, according to the National Institutes of Health.

While the term “meditation” is used to describe many different practices, such as mindfulness or transcendental meditation, all of them involve periods of quiet focus that are intended, at least in part, to strengthen concentration. …

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