Meditation changes the brain

We were interviewed for Nettó´s heilsublað (Nettós health & lifestyle magazine) about the importance of mental health when thinking holistically about your wellbeing. We talked alot about meditation. Here is a clip from the interview:

An antidote to today’s speed

Eva & Dagný consider meditation to be the most important tool for promoting mental health. “Meditation is an antidote to the speed of modern times and the problems that the mind cannot handle,” says Dagný. Eva adds that meditation is a powerful way to reduce the stress we are exposed to every day. “The minutes we are meditating, we are not taking in any stimuli.” In their courses, they introduce different types of meditation. “We need different things, but there are a million ways to meditate,” says Dagný. “People often say that they’ve tried meditating but that it doesn’t work,” says Eva. “Then we encourage people to try a different type of meditation”

Meditation changes the brain

First, you have to sit on a chair or in a comfortable position on the floor to get grounded – don’t lie down if you can. Then try to calm your mind, slow down your breathing, focus on one thing and relax. The goal is to meditate daily, first for a few minutes at a time and gradually increase the time. “We have had to take care of our mental health ourselves,” Dagný and Eva readily admit, stating that meditation has changed their brain function. Dagný explains that she was definitely diagnosed with attention deficit disorder when she was younger. “I had a hard time sitting and paying attention, but I was still a good student, but this made me very impatient and it was hard for me to finish things I started. I started practicing meditation and then started studying again. I felt such a difference in myself that I couldn’t believe it! I sat and listened and took in; the brain was changed!”

Everything takes its time

Being able to stay focused and study more easily is one benefit of meditation, but it also helps people adopt a calmer response and more equanimity; not to react so harshly to everything, says Dagný. She points out that deep and calm breathing is also a powerful tool for the nervous system and thus mental health. “These are the most effective tools and they cost nothing!” “People often kick back if something sounds too simple,” adds Eva with a smile. “But daily practice requires self-strength. People today want to see results immediately. We are used to being able to go to the store and buy the perfect mango all year round, but we have stopped understanding that everything takes time. If we do something positive every day over a long period of time, we gradually feel better and eventually better than we’ve ever felt before.”

Simplify life

“Spiritual strength is also being able to let go of some things and admit that we cannot participate in everything,” says Eva. “For example, it is recommended in yoga studies to take a cold shower throughout the year, but I never manage to make it a regular part of my routine.” But I have to go out in the cold and scrape the car every day here in Iceland so the cold shower is living on this island; it’s one of those blessings of living here!” laughs Eva. “I often complicate things, but then I think, ‘Is this good for my mental health?'” Dagný agrees and says that she and her husband practiced this at Christmas. “We asked each other, ‘How can we simplify life today?’ Do I have to have these napkins for the holidays to be good? Is that really what we need?”

A simple mantra meditation

1. Get into a sitting position with a straight spine so that your feet touch the ground.
2. Close your eyes, breathe deeply into your stomach and relax your jaws and shoulders.
3. Breathe in and out through your nose, connect with your breath and notice how you feel.
4. Say "sat" on the inhale and "nam" on the exhale and repeat the meditation.
5. Let thoughts float by like clouds in the sky but do not act on them.

Start with 3 minutes and gradually increase the length of the meditation

Words by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir

Photo Þórdís Reynis