An enlightened being sits atop a hill, cross-legged and totally still. Birds chirp. Water trickles in a nearby stream. If we were to look inside this person’s mind we would see nothing, just blank space, as if we had stepped into the universe.
This is the classic image of meditation. And it’s a fantasy to most.
Meditation is actually suitable for the everyday person. It doesn’t require a garden, a religion, or a lifestyle. And it doesn’t lead to total emptiness or inexplicable levitation.
Meditation is very useful to anyone who is looking to improve their brain and overall health. Ariel Garten, founder of Muse, breaks down the proven benefits in an interview for The WealthyWellthy Life podcast.
Check out all five benefits below, and then join us for Mindfulness Month to learn how to get started!
It keeps your brain young as you grow older.
“Meditation is one thing that’s actually really interesting for staving off parts of the aging brain. There’s one study that comes out of Dr. Sara Lazar at Harvard that shows as you age, your prefrontal cortex thins. That’s a standard known fact. Your prefrontal cortex is part of your tensional control system. She did a study demonstrating that long term meditators are able to maintain the thickness of their prefrontal cortex as they age, to the point where one gentleman at the age of fifty had the thickness of the prefrontal cortex of a twenty-three-year-old.”
It helps you keep your cool.
“There’s also research demonstrating that meditation decreases the activation of your amygdala. Your amygdala is your fight or flight response. As we think of ourselves as evolved human beings or individuals who want to be able to choose how we react, choose how we respond to situations, not simply be driven by our biology to be anxious, to freak out, to run away, to fight, to do all of these things that we may not consider as wise and cause us to make less good decisions and any actions in our lives.”
It quiets your mind (but does not erase it!).
“Meditation also decreases the activation of the default mode network. The default mode network is that relationship between your prefrontal cortex and your PCC or posterior cingulate cortex. The relationship in your default mode network, that firing happens when you are at rest, when you’re not really doing anything. If you put somebody in an MRI machine and tell them to do nothing, you’re still going to see the default mode firing. That’s your internal chatter. It’s what meditation may refer to as the monkey mind, as we may refer to as our inner dialogue. It’s that little thing that’s always constantly going that you typically have very little control over or engagement with and it’s just feeding you stuff all the time. As you meditate, you actually decrease the activation of that default mode network which is why as a meditator, we have the experience of decreasing the chatter of the monkey mind, being able to have a ‘clean blank slate.’ (There’s no such thing as a clean blank slate but that’s part of the existential experience that you have of it.) From there, you’re able to more efficiently and effectively choose the contents of your own thoughts and direct your own mental process and where you want it to go.”
It gives you power over your thoughts.
“Most people think that meditation is simply letting your mind go blank like let’s just wait for nothing to happen in your brain and someday it’ll get to enlightenment. It is just not true when it doesn’t happen.What meditation is is training your brain and sometimes it’ll start with a focused attention on the breath practice and you’re honing your attention, your ability to control and manage your attention. You may be focused on your breath and you try to come to a single point of attention…You might focus on a candle or mantra and then when a thought comes in, it’s your job to not follow that thought, to maintain your focused attention. That then allows you when distractions come in in your internal environment, negative thoughts, feelings, ruminations, to not be pulled into those and to have a choice about where you put your attention.”
It helps you accept yourself.
“One of the definitions of mindfulness is non-judgmental observation of your thoughts, feelings and experience in moment-to-moment. We’re just asking somebody to observe what goes on inside, to not be driven by it, to not respond to it, to not have crazy autonomic arousal as a result of it, but to engage in the process of watching it, being with it, being comfortable with it, knowing it.”
Check out the full interview here.