In the NY Times Magazine piece, Breathing In Vs. Spacing Out writer Dan Hurley describes the importance of balancing two types of thinking for optimal brain health.
Hurley reports that the psychologist Amishi Jha used meditation to train United States Marines for mental resilience in a combat zone. (Are you surprised to learn this? I’m not.)
“We found that as little as 12 minutes of meditation practice a day helped the Marines to keep their attention and working memory — that is, the added ability to pay attention over time — stable,” said Dr. Jha.
In another study, undergraduates who practiced meditation for just 10 minutes a day, for two weeks, improved their percentile scores on the Graduate Record Exam by 16 points. They also significantly increased their ability to maintain and adjust focus.
Pretty powerful stuff for something that takes just 10 to 12 minutes a day.
Think Two Ways
The article suggests one should one should also devote time regularly to creative thinking . . . which is kind of the opposite of meditation.
In meditation you keep your thoughts fixed on one thing. In creative thinking, you let your mind wander.
I’ve never been good at passive meditation, the most common kind. I find it hard, while sitting still, to keep my thoughts fixed
But I find it easy to maintain focus when moderately active. Every lap I swim includes a ‘mantra’ of some kind–a stroke thought, a stroke count, or the beep of a Tempo Trainer. Many times I do all three in combination.
Back on land . . . I sometimes do 15 minutes of prone yoga stretches, or standing-balance asanas, within an hour after waking. While doing them I breathe (10 to 12 slow breaths for each stretch) and focus on the muscles or joints being stretched.
Using the yoga visualization of breathing into the area being stretched (though I know the breath actually goes into my lungs, this is a good focus technique) helps keep my thoughts from straying
I do this because, at 62, it helps me feel better physically. But I also do it because I believe it helps me stay on-task as I write things like this blog post . . . part of the several hours each day I allot to creative thinking.
Since creative thinking is practically my full-time occupation, my takeaway from the article is that I will henceforth make the fixed focus of ‘yoga meditation’ as much a part of my morning routine as brewing tea, rather than something I do occasionally.
And I will definitely continue to practice swimming–always–as a moving meditation.
As the Roman poet Juvenal wrote, Mens sana in corpore sano. Sound mind in a strong body.
I wonder if he knew about mindful swimming.