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Most of you who are reading this post are likely to live a fast-paced life. I suppose that you are also likely to keep many things in your head at once.
Juggling several projects with near deadlines at work, having a family, perhaps children to take care of, and wanting to have some time for yourself aside of it all, makes it normal for your memory to sometimes worsen a bit.
You may lose track of all the things on your to-do list sometimes. And most of the time it is okay, but sometimes it can have big consequences.
At some point in your life, you may have forgotten to complete an important task at work and are now dreading your boss' reaction. Or you may have come out of the grocery with so many things, but not the reason why you had to go there in the first place, and you are dreading your wife's reaction when she finds our that you forgot the main ingredient for the dinner AGAIN.
Our memory can become worse during times of stress. However, there is a solution.
As you may have guessed from this blog's name and the title of this post, it is mindfulness and meditation. You can read my earlier blog post about many great effects of meditation, however, in this post, I would mainly like to focus on memory.
I have recently come across several studies that showed really great benefits of meditation, improving memory:
One study showed that short daily meditation sessions enhanced working memory in participants after eight weeks (1). I know that eight weeks sounds like a looooong time, but unfortunately, changing the brain's chemistry and connections cannot really be done by a quick-fix. Great news is that the participants only devoted 13 minutes for their daily meditation, which is just 0.9% of your whole day!
Another study showed that meditation improved memory and multitasking abilities of participants in high stress environment (2). They also showed the effects after 8 weeks, giving no shortcut for enhanced memory, but still showing that it actually works, which I hope can motivate you. It also presents great benefits at work, where we have to juggle many things at once and try to stay sane and calm at the same time.
A review, which investigated many studies done on age-related cognitive decline showed that meditation could not only slow down the worsening of cognitive processes in our brain, such as memory, as we age, but also could enhance them (3). That's because the brain becomes "younger" in people who meditate, as the connections in the brain become stronger.
In the begining, though, I found it so difficult to meditate! So many thoughts would keep popping up in my head and I was just constantly wondering whether I was doing something wrong.
I had this idea of meditation being all about completely emptying your mind, with no thoughts whatsoever.
I thought of it as some kind of out-of-the-body experience that only monks were ever able to do.
That was until I attended a meditation course, led by Adam Starr, who explained the ins and outs of meditation in very simple terms and everything just started making so much sense.
What should I do about all the thoughts that keep on popping into my head?
This was the first and biggest issue I had with meditation.
Apparently having thoughts appear in your head is totally normal. And they keep appearing even in experienced meditators' heads.
Meditation is really mostly about being aware of the present moment. And that also means observing those random thoughts that keep appearing.
I really liked the way Adam explained it, saying that we can see all thoughts that appear in our head as clouds in the sky.
When we look at the clouds in the sky, we don't get drawn into them. We can just observe them from a distance, without judging them as good or bad, ugly or pretty, or anything else. Eventually the clouds dissolve and the clear sky appears.
The same way you can think about the thoughts in your head, when you catch yourself dragged into them while meditating. They appear like the clouds in the sky and you can observe them. When you don't interact with them, they can just dissolve.
Then there are no thoughts left for a little while, just the awareness of the present moment.
With more practice, you will be able to have the "clear sky" for a little while longer. Meditation is like everything else in life, becomes easier with consistent practice.
So we cleared the first problem: thought management.
Now - moving on to the practicalities of my simple and quite basic meditation practice.
The easiest way for me to meditate is by siting in a comfortable position. I get very sleepy when I lie down and at some point I'm not sure anymore whether I'm meditating, or sleeping even despite the tricks you can do to stay awake :).
Make sure your spine is upright and your shoulders are relaxed. Try not to lean onto anything, if you have a healthy spine, just sit upright with your hands on your lap, in a comfortable position.
I would suggest starting with just a few minutes, so set your timer for anything from 3 to 5 minutes if you are a beginner. Otherwise, anything from 10 - 20min, or even longer if you feel comfortable and have the time is also great!
Then close your eyes and tune in to your breath. Feel your belly rise with each inhale and fall with each exhale. Now take five deep breaths. Count the seconds as you inhale and try to have the same count as you exhale.
After five deep breaths, let go of the control of your breath and just observe your natural breathing. With each inhale, you can say to yourself in your head the word "inhale".
Before you breathe out, notice the space where you're not breathing in, nor out. You can call it "calmness".
Then as you breathe out, you can call it "exhale".
And then the space before next inhale, you can call "calmness" again.
So it goes like - "inhale" - "calmness" - "exhale" - "calmness" - and start over again.
It's great to keep saying those words in your head as you breathe since it ensures your full attention on the breath and leaves less space for the random thoughts to pop into your head.
Continue doing this for the entire meditation and when you notice a thought popping into your head, just observe it like a cloud and allow it to dissolve so that you can see the clear sky again. Keep bringing your attention to your breath.
As the alarm rings, gently bring back your awareness to your surroundings and the noises you hear, the smells you smell, the air temperature around you and anything else you are feeling. Then open your eyes.
Congratulations, you just meditated and contributed to improving your memory!
You can also download an app like Headspace, or Calm and do guided meditations to begin with. I have used Calm, which I found very helpful and easy to follow. I have also included two links of guided meditations below, which have gotten great reviews from users.
Try to incorporate meditation practice into your daily routine. I would suggest to think about a time, when you are most free during the day to meditate and be realistic when you do it, since the goal is to make it into a consistent routine.
For example, you may want to meditate in the morning, after having brushed your teeth. Or in the afternoon, when you come back home from work. Just make sure you are consistent every single day.
It is also great if you can do it in the same, specific place every time. This will make your brain used to the meditation practice and it will be easier as faster to get into the meditation mood. You can even get a meditation cushion to really create a specific place for your practice.
As I mentioned earlier, the effects of meditation may take time to really fully show, however when I started practicing it, I noticed right away how much more collected and attentive I was during the days. Those things really contribute to better memory right away, as you start paying more attention to details.
Stay tuned for more science-backed evidence and tips on mindfulness that I will post in this blog, by subscribing to my mailing list below.
I am very interested to hear your opinion and tips on what you'd like to read about in this blog. Therefore you are more than welcome to leave a comment here, or contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura | MSc in Medical Science, Creator of The Greater Mindfulness
1. Basso, J. C., McHale, A., Ende, V., Oberlin, D. J., & Suzuki, W. A. (2019). Brief, daily meditation enhances attention, memory, mood, and emotional regulation in non-experienced meditators. Behavioural brain research, 356, 208-220.
2. Levy, D. M., Wobbrock, J. O., Kaszniak, A. W., & Ostergren, M. (2012). The effects of mindfulness meditation training on multitasking in a high-stress information environment. In Proceedings of Graphics Interface 2012 (pp. 45-52).
3. Gard, T., Hölzel, B. K., & Lazar, S. W. (2014). The potential effects of meditation on age-related cognitive decline: a systematic review. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1307, 89. ISO 690