With so much information going around about meditation—what it is, what it does, how it works—and an outdated or archaic image that is sometimes quite woowoo and “out there”, how is one to know if it’s real or not?
The question was posed to an author in a recent article, and I really liked the resulting explanation.
You don’t need to buy yoga pants, burn incense, or even sit a particular way. The purpose of meditation is to train your brain just like you do the rest of your muscles. In this case, that means concentrating and focusing on one thing in your brain for a little while.
I know from personal experience and from teaching meditation skills professionally for years, that it really works. In fact, I would even go as far as to say it works for everyone. Not in the same way or on the same timeline or with the same speed. But with regular practice, everyone who practices meditation does benefit—and often in ways they never imagined.
I advocate that we regard meditation as a “regular thing”, a routine self-care practice, rather than some extracurricular activity. What I mean is this: in much the same way that we take in nutrients and eliminate waste every day, the mind is deserving of daily attention, care and “exercise”.
When negative thoughts arise, they can trigger unhelpful emotions that stress our bodies and drain our energy, motivation and inspiration. It is natural for the mind to generate such negative thoughts. But left unchecked, they can wreak havoc with our wellbeing.
Luckily, with enough awareness practice, we are able to train our brain and direct such mental activity toward more positive, productive activation. In a sense, meditation is simply the practice of healing and resting the mind while awake. In fact, many meditators report feeling better rested after a brief meditation than they would feel had they taken a nap.
Meditation practices allow us to temporarily cease our natural tendency to process, solve, and calculate in this go-go-go world. It sharpens the ability of our prefrontal cortex to service our highest operating centers, resulting in a life that is better aligned with our best intentions and most heartfelt thought.
Or as one meditator describes it: “Meditation is a lot like doing reps at a gym. It strengthens your attention muscle.”