Meditation and the brain hard-ware
Updated: Aug 16, 2018
We all saw mesmerisingly peaceful images of joyful yogi-meditators who, seems, stay totally zen and cool in any circumstance. We all read mystical books about benefits of meditation. We all encountered multiple articles about celebrities and entrepreneurs like BridgeWater CEO Ray Dalio who swore that all their success came from regular meditative practices. We all know that Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, and even Madonna are experienced meditators. Finally, we all have that couple of regularly meditating friends who always look so light, bright, young, healthy, and trouble free. On the other hand, we tried all of that “new age stuff” ourselves, we attended multiple yoga classes and downloaded all those calming apps but seems it’s just doesn’t work for us. And the pretty logical question is – who is the liar? Why it seems work for some people and don’t work for others? What do we all miss here?
The answerer to this question is pretty simple - no one is a liar. But, in order to reap benefits from meditation or anything else in life we have to devote a great deal of time to learn if first. It is the same thing as learning languages, crafts or sports. Knowing techniques, regular practice, analysis, feedback, and improvement are important. But the crucial factor is to clearly understand why you need to put your effort and time into doing something. Without solid reasoning any process is just a waste of time unless the process by itself is extremely pleasurable and makes us feel good.
So, why to learn meditation? There are at least 5 reasons:
1. It feels good! I will tell you more, it feels as good as breath, or listening to beautiful music, or traveling unseen places in a sense that it’s natural, relaxing, could be very exciting, but, first and foremost, mind-clearing.
2. Meditating promotes incredible health benefits.
Let me build this up. Meditation calms down your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and significantly eases that unbearable fight or flight response we experience almost every day. You don’t need to be a Buddhist monk or even advanced practitioner to reap this amazing and affordable benefit. Moreover, meditation is considered as one of the most user-friendly cognitive techniques. Why? Well, first of all meditation is a quickest and one of the most effective ways to stop your mental chatter that stresses all of us out even more than stressful situations themselves. No need to say that breaking a negative mental repetition at least for `a short period of time you allow your body to adjust its biochemistry from agitated state of anxiety, depression, pessimism, or anger (to name a few) to more orderly and coherent state of calm, relaxation, and, therefore, healthier physiological state of being.
Consequences of the chronic stress and fatigue, sleep deprivation, separation and anticipation anxiety, addictions including emotional addictions such as emotional eating, shopping, addiction to certain people, behavior, and circumstances, excessive weight and certain health problems such as migraines, hormonal imbalances, cardio-vascular disease and many more acute health problems could be solved thanks to meditation. How it works? I will dip into this topic during the course Meditate your destiny as well as during my public lectures related to Meditation, Neuroscience, and Cognitive-Behavioral Psychology. I will explain in greater details how your brain, body, and mind (the product of the both) respond to basic meditative practices. Moreover, we will try some of them in real time with detailed explanation and gentle guidance.
3. Meditating makes your more elegant.
Don’t get me wrong. Saying “Elegant” I meant how you behave, appear to the external world, and how you feel out there. There is always a small but sufficient gap between stimuli and response. However, very often we are swept away by emotional hurricanes and miss this precious space. Only wisest and the most experienced of us can notice the gap and use it productively. Meditation trains your brain not only notice the gap but also increase it. What it means in simple terms: using this gap between stimuli and response you literally can consciously choose how to respond and behave in a more elegant, rational, and sophisticated way. Now let me distinguish two terms: react and respond. Do you feel the difference? The latter is what we often do. We get triggered by certain internal event and we react as primitive mammals: fighting, fleeing or freezing. The former is what makes us different from other primates. The gap I was talking about is a precious tool to master our behavior. It gives us an opportunity for better more rational choices, that makes our interactions with others friendlier and more cooperative, improve our relationships and brings us more business opportunities and other goods. When we feel more satisfies and calm in general it sharpens our creativity, that, in tern, could increase our income, open new opportunities for learning, self-development, education, traveling and many more.
4. Meditating makes as more attractive.
I mentioned already few times correlation between relationships and meditation but I want to point it our one more time. Meditations dramatically improves our relationships with others people. Regular practice of, for instance, loving-kindness meditation makes us more empathetic and compassionate and not only for others but also for ourselves. We (humans) are born as highly empathetic and compassionate creatures. Our infants are born extremely vulnerable and we evolutionary wired to be care-taking spices in order to promote survival for our offsprings. However, many of us forgotten about it and went far away from our humanistic nature being driven by social conditioning of extremely competitive modern culture. And further we go from the nature the less happy we are. Why? Because lacking empathy and compassion we put ourselves in the position of loneliness, and this is a killing factor for humans. We are wired to connect, bond, and love. Our primate relatives spend at least 30% of their non-sleeping time grooming and caressing each other. They, and we are hyper social creature. Loneliness and social isolation feels by primate’s brains as an extreme excruciating physical pain. So, in order to be happy or at least not to be unhappy (depressed) we need to build and maintain rich positive network. Meditation helps building up empathy and compassion that are two the most important components of emotional intelligence. In short, it’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy: your attitude determines your behaviour, your behaviour influence others around you and forms their attitude that dictates their behaviour towards you. Moreover, loving-kindness and few other types of meditations build up brain regions responsible for empathy. So, meditate to connect.
5. Meditation help you to achieve.
And here I’m going to, as my American colleagues say, blow your mind! Meditation teaches us how to master our own destiny. Let me explain this big statement. I’m not going to trade the idea about magical connection with the Divine even if I totally love the idea, and, moreover, I believe it’s true. But let’s leave it for now and turn our attention to the purely scientific explanation. We don’t think and feel in the vacuum. Every though we think and every feeling we experience produce certain electro-chemical reaction in the body. On average humans think 60-70K thoughts a day and 90% of them are automatic, irrational and repetitive. We are creatures of habit and usually we tend to have the same thoughts, the same feelings, and emotions over and over again. We become chemically hooked to our attitudes, believes and thoughts. That’s why it’s very difficult to change. Literally, any time we try to change we experience sensations comparable to substances withdrawal. And it’s true to the extent that the substances are produced by our own bodies in a response to the same automatic thoughts. Meditation break this pattern electrically, chemically and, therefore, changes our mind, body, and brain. I will dip deeper into this fascinating mix of biochemistry, neuroscience and physiology during the course Meditate your destiny as well as during my public talks and lectures.
Now let me give you a little teaser. Our brain, body, and environment determine our mind, habits, and behaviours. Our mind, habits, and behaviour shape our personalities as well as how other people perceive us in the light of our actions. These two factors determine our life. So, if we want to change our life or alter it in a more desirable way – meditation coupled with cognitive-behavioural therapy is a great way to start. Why? Because it could be compared with hard and soft-ware revision and upgrade. It’s not easy and not quick as all kind of training, but there is a good news out here: if one brain on earth was able to do something – other brains are cable as well.