Meditation: the exercise of thinking deeply or focusing for a period of time with the intention to relax and find inner peace, an effective tool that promotes multiple health benefits. One idea is that meditation impacts the structures of the brain. Studies show that there are long lasting neurological benefits even on areas affected by stress. It seems the more we study this ancient practice, the more we discover. Researchers at Harvard University used brain scans to determine that just eight weeks of a mindfulness training program could increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls learning and memory and plays an import role in emotion regulation. As we all know, stress has a negative influence on the brain. Meditation is a technique that can help you control stress, decrease anxiety, improve cardiovascular health and achieve an overall greater sense of wellbeing. Another benefit that I enjoy, is that it improves focus and the ability to concentrate. Today’s world is fast paced, and the amount of distractions increase daily. Training your mind to be more present is a fantastic way to ensure you live a mindful life, rather than live with a mind that’s full.
In 2019, I was not aware of any of these benefits, until I desperately needed them. I was twenty nine years old and adjusting to the workplace part time, months after undergoing a right craniotomy for aneurysm clipping. I did not have expectations on what this transition would be like. At this time I had many limitations, and due to the amount of sleep required to heal I was rarely physically active. Adapting seemed less daunting than starting anew, since this was a job that I worked before being hospitalized. Nonetheless, I quickly noticed that my processing ability, speed and retention was not what it was before. I struggled with short term memory loss, and often used a lot of mental bandwidth attempting to remember what I was doing, let alone accomplishing the task. Meanwhile as I struggled to keep up internally, my external environment was loud. Not just in volume, there were multiple people, fluorescent lights, and constant sensory information to take in. I did not even realize what was happening then, but I often went into sensory overload. My brain would have to, in a sense, power down so that I would not be in fight or flight mode. I often got swept up in the world around me and finding my way was difficult.
As time went on, I became stronger. I was able to physically withstand working four hours a day. Then I was able to slowly start adding back the pieces. Both at work, and in my personal life. I am grateful that my employer and manager worked with me in regards to this. Our united goals aided in my journey to become successful in my role again. When I would step away from my desk for breaks, I realized I was not living in the moment. I wanted so badly to decompress and slow down, but I struggled with leaving the tension and its energy behind. Even on a break, my thoughts would race and my stress level felt the same. I tried exploring stress management tools. Walks were a nice way to clear my head, and in doing this I found a podcast. Lucky for me, this podcast creator offered free guided meditations on her website. I improved at fitting in self-care and began slipping away even if just for a few minutes to work on my breathing. Days into this, I noticed a shift. I was being accountable, I was motivated, and most importantly, it was helping me.
I felt that I was managing my life better. It was so rewarding. I was learning new responsibilities at work, and although I had struggles, I adapted and made changes that would make things work. I noted that my brain fog could make things difficult, so I found coping shortcuts and implemented repeatable systems to be successful. In addition to these wonderful changes, I was handling stress so much better. Life was not easy. I had a lot of challenges – not just work, but also being a mother and navigating my chronic illness and the appointments required to remain well. These things did not feel like such a burden now that I connected with something to help me find the necessary balance. I became more confident and I noticed things like my concentration had improved, my verbal memory was developing, and my brain health improved overall.
I recommend meditation to anyone who wants to be more intentional about their life. After surviving a medical intervention and worrying about memory loss, I appreciate having a tool that’s so valuable. While this piece primarily addresses work, I have been able to apply the benefits to my relationships, parenting, and also coping with my brain injury. I am so passionate about sharing my enthusiasm for meditation, I wanted to host a place for it. Weeks into my furlough in 2020 I began studying and became certified as a meditation coach. Then in November of 2020 just around my two year “annie – versary” (aneurysm anniversary), I began writing and recording guided meditations. My goal was to promote benefits that are not obvious, and to show that meditation can be simple and valuable to many.
Live intentionally is a podcast where you can hear me tell my aneurysm story, but also a place where you can participate in short guided meditations. It is a place where you can learn the fundamentals and then apply them to your own life. The great thing about these meditations being podcast episodes is that you can download them, and listen to ones that resonate with you whenever you would like. As a brain injury survivor, meditation also opens the door to community and group experiences. I look forward to creating safe places for those within the brain injury community to connect with one another and learn these benefits together. Please stay tuned in my venture, and in the meantime please join me on my podcast.
Click the photo to learn more about Emilia Matheny.