Research is now showing us that it doesn’t matter how many years you have been meditating or how long each day you practice. What matters is consistency—doing a bit every day!
How Meditating Ever Day Just A Little Bit Starts To Change Your Brain
And the reason this works so well is that we have to gently remind our brain each day to make the changes to those neural networks that we want, but the brain is pretty smart once it gets onto something that is good for it—meaning that once you have found your practice, whether it is yoga and breath work, a mantra meditation, a guided recording you listen to, or vipassana or zen meditation, just doing that same thing every day for 10 minutes will start to change your brain over time in a profound way.
Researchers at Harvard university taught total beginners a simple meditation for 20 mins/day for 8 weeks and their brains had changed on MRI and they had increased grey matter in key brain regions associated with resiliency and positive mood. And you don’t have to worry about getting up an hour early or giving up your evening social life to make it happen—because it is JUST 10 minutes! That is only 2 commercial breaks from your favourite TV show, if you watch TV, or 2 of your favourite songs played back to back.
So, let’s just get one thing out of the way: I am not a meditation snob. I do not believe there is one and only one way to meditate that beats all the other ways that is the same for every person. However, no matter what meditation type you choose, there is universally one thing that is now proven in the research not to work. And that is ‘binge meditating.’
What do I mean by ‘binge meditating?’ Well, it usually starts with a you doing a course or going away on a retreat where you get taught to meditate (which I highly recommend). Learning to meditate in nature while you are “zenning” out from the world at a retreat is a fantastic way to get your feet wet.
The issue isn’t starting to meditate on an amazing retreat from the world, it’s thinking that you have to go home and do a sitting meditation for at least an hour a day to ‘make it work.’ Then, when you get home to your packed schedule, you find it hard to fit in a whole hour every day and start to feel really guilty.
You get up an hour earlier and push through for the first little while until you are exhausted by lunch from the lost sleep and can’t keep up the hour in the am any longer with your current schedule not on a retreat. There is a little voice that tells you that 5 or 10 minutes doesn’t make any difference so people tend to just stop altogether for a while. Then, when you are approaching an anxiety ridden overwhelm stress crisis, you may start up again and force yourself into the hour a day again for a few weeks to help just get through the stressful period, but then once things are going well, the hour a day is too much of a commitment.
So if that is sounding familiar, first of all don’t worry, you are normal. I don’t do a sitting meditating an hour a day. But I DO have a daily mind body practice that I fit into my packed schedule no matter how busy I am, because I tailor it to how much I actually have that day. Some days, that is only 10 minutes. Sometimes it’s 1.5 hrs (but that includes yoga and guided relaxation/visualization which I find more effective for me!).