Meditation is an ancient technique that trains the brain for the power of concentration. It’s like a gym workout for the brain.
Archaeologists have established that meditation has been around for more than 5500 years. While only 60 years ago, modern scientists started to study the brains of meditators. They discovered that meditation changes the structure of the brain and made it a lot more powerful. Long-term meditators are often able to develop superhuman abilities like; the ability to stay calm in stressful situations like exams and sports, more original and creative ideas, and an excellent memory. An experiment showed that meditative monks were able to melt the ice on their cheeks in cold weather, by raising their own body temperature using the power of the mind.
Understanding how our brain works
To understand how meditation affects us, we must first look at the most recent discoveries about the brain. In the last ten years, scientists have discovered that every time we think, feel or learn something new, a neural connection appears in our brain. Those things that we repeat the most like a habit make these connections grow stronger. And over time those that we don’t use become weaker and eventually disappear. This why a habit is automatic and we don’t have to think before doing it. For example; because you practice brushing your teeth every day it seems a lot less effortless than washing your dishes after eating, even though both tasks take about the same time to complete. But if you stopped brushing your teeth for a few days it will also seem like a more difficult task.
Some neuroscientists have suggested that we don’t choose most of our behavior. Instead, it is programmed by these neural connections in our brain. Think of the tip of an iceberg, which is the smallest part. This represents all the things that we can choose consciously such as solving a maths problem. The largest part of the iceberg is all about unconscious thoughts and feelings, which cause most of our behavior. Like reacting to arguments the same way again and again even though afterwards we know it was wrong. This happens because we are not aware that we are controlled by our unconscious emotions. In this part of our unconscious mind, neural connections are strong so most people think they can’t change how they act or react in certain situations. This automatic way of acting is what we call personality, but mostly it’s just those thoughts, emotions, and habits that we have repeated the most growing up and continue to repeat on a daily basis.
This can all be changed!
How to Change it?
Our intelligence, skills, and personality can all be developed with practice. We can literally train our brains to become cleverer, to learn a new talent, or to think differently in situations.
So to change ourselves we need to change our brains by creating new connections and by practicing them till they become strong and automatic. This means the stuff that we find hard now will become easier the more we practice it. Think back to when you struggled to read. It would take you a while to get through a sentence. And now it’s automatic, you don’t need to stop and think about words that you already know, you just do it.
Amazingly meditation practice helps us change all of those things by creating new connections in many different parts of the brain. Literally making your brain larger in size.
How do you practice meditation? Well, it’s really simple. All you have to do is concentrate on your breathing and allow thoughts and feelings to come and go. With continuous practice, your skills of attention, concentration, and awareness significantly increase. However, it’s actually hard to just concentrate on your breath and nothing else. This is because on average we have about 50,000 thoughts a day! 98% of those are the same thoughts that we had yesterday and 80% of those thoughts are negative. Stress, worry, and irritability are a direct result of those thoughts which are either regrets about the past that we can not change or worry about the future which hasn’t even yet happened. Yet, we experience the stress in the present moment, causing us to behave in very unhelpful ways. The more we worry, the better we become at worrying, which is a negative habit. Overthinking leads to continuous stress and continuous stress leads to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
Proven benefits of meditation
Meditation has been shown to decrease the size of the amygdala, which is the fear center of our brain, and this is where all of our negative thoughts and emotions come from. It also decreases the level of stress hormones cortisol, which overall means that you can deal with stressful situations a lot better. During meditation, you also learn the skill of how to watch your emotions and thoughts without reacting to them.
This means that with continuous meditation practices you can significantly change your behavior and even your personality. This can help you to achieve your personal goals because you are less likely to procrastinate or worry about other people’s opinions about you.
Scientists are still discovering all the other benefits of meditation such as its ability to make you more creative, better at learning and remembering things, increasing self-confidence, and making you kinder towards other people around you.
Leaders of big companies, athletes, and even pop stars use meditation as a way of training their minds. The NHS now uses meditation to treat a variety of mental health issues. It’s even been shown that meditation is more effective than using drugs.
Not bad hey? For saying all you need to do is sit still for 20 minutes, close your eyes and concentrate.
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