Does Meditation Work?
For all you fitness lovers who are regulars at the local gym… what is the purpose of training your muscles? To get them stronger, obviously. Consistent work and repeated discipline at the gym will give you the physical prowess and sculpted physique you so desperately crave. What if, the mind could be trained in the same way? What if you could exercise the equivalent of a mental pushup, and make your mind stronger and sharper? Well, guess what folks, you can. Let’s talk a little bit about meditation, and answer the age-old questions: does meditation work?
Yes, it actually works.
Let’s start with a couple misconceptions about the brain to provide a framework for meditation, and how it can be used to strengthen the mind, like a muscle.
Dr. Lara Boyd fills us in on some old-wives tales:
1. The brain does not change or shift after childhood. False.
2. We only use parts of our brain. False.
3. When we are at rest, our brain is not working. You guessed it… False.
Dr. Boyd is talking about neuroplasticity. We aren’t going to give you a science lecture, but in simple terms… every time our brain is at work, whether we are learning a new skill, or recovering from an injury, our brain is changing. We are not stuck with the brain that we have and are able to shift how it works based on our activity.
If we grasp the basic tenet of neuroplasticity, we can begin to comprehend just how our actions may determine the formation and reorganization of our brain. And in the end, we may be able to answer our initial question: does meditation work?
Meditation, at its root, improves our ability to pay attention, and focus on one moment of life at a time. Throughout our lives, hundreds of external outlets are fighting amongst each other for our attention; whether that be our children, our job, our social media feed, our past, our future. Our brains are perhaps the most comprehensive computer on the planet, capable of receiving, downloading, and analyzing millions of bits of information at at time. Just because we can process all this information, it doesn’t mean we have to all at once.
Meditation can reorganize our brain to sift out non-useful information to focus at the task at hand. We are, quite literally, reprogramming our brain to process smaller chunks of information that will benefit us in that moment, and disregard the rest. While that sounds incredibly convenient, few are actually able to make use of this incredible skill. Why? Meditation is hard.
Redirecting our attention to useful information is challenging, and something that we all struggle with on a daily basis, perhaps without even knowing it. Let’s look at an example.
Let’s say you sign onto Facebook to check out some sports highlights. As you scroll through your feed, you spot a link for these new workout shorts that you like. You click on the link, which takes you to the company’s home page, and on the home screen, you see a Youtube video which shows elite athletes working out in these shorts. As you are directed to Youtube, on your side feed, you see a video of “Puppies Learning How to Howl.” How can I not watch this? After you watch five minutes of adorable husky puppies, you see another video of a man attempting to eat the world’s largest watermelon. OK, you have my interest.
Any of you been there before? An hour of time has passed and you completely forgot why you opened Facebook in the first place.
Let’s look at another example.
You have just made the decision to get sober after years of drug and alcohol abuse. You have firmly made the resolution that, this time, I am done. In your first 24 hours sober, you meet a man who invites you to a meeting later that day. You are nervous, but also intrigued that this may be the solution you need to solve all your problems. As you wake up that morning, having not had a drink or a drug in over a day, the mind begins to wander. The haunted memories of your past start crawling to the forefront of your mind, and the depression sets in. You begin thinking about the future, and the uncertainty of the direction your life is heading riddles you with anxiety. As all of the thoughts and emotions pour in at once, you decide not to go the meeting. You cannot fathom sitting in a room full of people capable of judging you and questioning your every move.
Remember how the day started? You were ready to stop drinking. By the end of the day, the firm resolution to seek out a solution has faded into the dark corners of your mind.
If you have experienced either of these scenarios, you are one of the many that can benefit from meditation, and an opportunity to program your mind to stay on task, remain at attention, and disregard pointless information.
Think about attention as the lens in which you see the world around you. If the lens is hopping from one moment, or object, or Youtube video to the next, we will find it difficult to stay present on the moment which is most important to us. We will find it seemingly impossible to complete any task we set out to finish.
So does meditation work? Yes, it does. Meditation allows us to notice and observe exactly where we are paying attention. A few minutes of honest meditation will force us to step back and objectively view where our mind is spending most of its energy and processing the most information.
For your first shot at meditation, here are two suggestions:
1. Breathing Meditation
- Close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth four times, nice and slowly.
- On the fourth breathe, hold in the air for another four count. Keep everything nice and relaxed. Then release your breath through your mouth for four seconds.
- Repeat at least three times.
2. Mantra Meditation
- Close your eyes, and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth; and out loud say the word, Be.
- Take another deep breath in through your nose, and on the next exhale, say a word of your choice, such as: Here. Present. Content. Patient. Satisfied. At Peace.
- Repeat at least three times.
As you give these suggestions a shot, you will probably notice your mind wander all over the place. Good! That is supposed to happen. Remember, your brain is as complex a computer as there is. Billions of bits of information are processed in it every day. Do not fight these thoughts coming in and out of young. Accept them as such, and then redirect your mind to the breath, or the mantra.
Just like any skill in life, you will only improve if you work at it. Do not become discouraged if you do not feel at peace during your first several meditation sessions. Allow you mind to gallop around, watch those thoughts run by, and return to your breath or the phrase you have chosen.
Our final suggestion: take a few moments at the beginning of your day, and at the end of the day, to give these meditations a shot. What do you have to lose?
Have any other tips or tricks for meditation? Let us know in our Facebook comment section! You never know who might benefit from your experience.
As always, if you or a loved one are struggling, please do not hesitate to reach out.