You want to know: does meditation really unlock the powers of the mind? The answer is simply, yes.
I hear this question raised all the time. It’s remarkable how many people still don’t understand or practice meditation, given what we know about it.
If you’re new to meditation or are just dabbling in it, and want to know if it really works as intended, this will be a short guide to help you understand what meditation is, what it does to your body, and what it can do for you.
Science Says: Meditation Works
From a practical standpoint, you should be aware of how effective meditation is. It’s been practiced all over the world for thousands of years, and has remained the cornerstone of deep spiritual and self-mastery training pretty much since the dawn of civilization.
But what does the science say?
Well, you might be shocked to learn that meditation has been extensively studied for decades, and its effects are soundly backed by science. This isn’t something you’ll typically hear about in the mainstream, but yes, science says meditation works.
In short, before even getting into the “deeper” aspects of meditation, science has proven:
- Meditation increases the size of your prefrontal cortex.
- Meditation helps neurons fire together to create faster and more efficient thinking.
- Meditation increases the size of your hippocampus.
- Meditation limits the amygdala from hampering your advanced thinking centers.
- Meditation enhances memory and the ability to recall accurately.
- Meditation reduces stress on the body by reducing “mental clutter” that puts us in continual flight / fight response loops.
- Meditation strengthens the immune system.
- Meditation cures mood disorders and improves your ability to control and regulate your emotions.
As you can see, science has wholeheartedly validated and proven the effects of meditation. The idea of “meditation” conjures images of fantasy and mysticism, but the truth is, its veracity as a self-mastery tool has been tested rigorously by science.
You might be asking yourself then, why haven’t you heard of this or why isn’t it more mainstream?
The answer, like so much else in the holistic health world, is the stigma attached to meditation as “alternative health” (ie not legitimate). Meditation for instance has a much better tract record than anti-depressants for curing depression, but you’ll never see a commercial advertising yoga or mindfulness for such a purpose.
Pills are far more profitable for the mainstream medical industry.
Science itself tells us that meditation is a way of reclaiming our primal instincts and connection with the natural world. Through mindfulness practice, we can sort of train our brains to work more like how they were intended, without the clutter and data overload of our modern society.
Moreover, meditation allows the brain to be unburdened by the stress of these confused and dangerous mental states, meaning improved bodily functions all around, not just in the mind.
Everything improves once regular meditation practice is instituted. Immune system, digestion, memory, heart rate, blood pressure, muscle recovery. The list goes on.
Part of the reason for this is because as we go through life, we hinder ourselves by keeping our mind and body in a continual flight or fight response loop.
Because our minds are so poorly controlled and regulated, the result is just a constant bombardment of stress on the body, or at least the illusion of stress.
Confusion, angst, anger, depression, and frustration in the mind results in a weakened body. These are mental states that in most animals, typically only last for brief seconds, where survival is on the line and the body must make quick decisions to escape the mind-body state.
We have created a society that puts us in continual stress mode. This in turn literally poisons the body.
So meditation teaches your mind how to finally escape this, but it does even more. Science shows that you can improve the function of your neurons with meditation, and actually increase brain size, number of neural connections, etc.
This translates directly into heightened awareness, quicker thinking, better memory, and emotional resilience.
Thousands of Years of Evidence
Possibly more important than the scientific research into meditation, the sheer amount of evidence based on lived experience is what originally drove me to learn this ancient practice.
If you dig deep enough into history, you learn that meditation, in some form or another, provided the core of nearly every spiritual experience our ancestors developed.
Meditation is a primal act. It enables you to bypass the “noise” of our ego-minds and transcend the limitations placed on us by societal circumstance. In other words, it has a long history of being used to excel past expected norms and limits, which is why many practitioners of meditation seem otherworldly or at least very wise.
The benefits of meditation are so numerous that entire belief systems and religious rituals were crafted around it in the ancient past. People who had mastered meditation were looked at as saints, wise beyond the limits of the average person, strong in body and mind. In some cultures, such people were even deified.
This is more a testament to the failings of human society than the power of meditation however. Remember that our society has disconnected us from the natural world, which has given us a massive amount of stress and confusion from a biological point of view.
Meditation in a sense merely seeks to rectify this disconnection by helping us to get in touch with our deeper selves, and establish a heightened awareness.
The point still stands however that meditation has one of the most proven track records of any exercise we’ve developed as a species for strengthening the mind and raising awareness.
You could even call it the cornerstone of most spiritual practices and religions. In some form or another, meditation has been a part of human behavior pretty much since the dawn of recorded history, because it works.
Quick Guide to Meditation
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of meditation techniques out there. Some are designed to help you clear your mind or focus your thoughts, some are designed to give you greater control over your breathing, and others were developed for connecting with the planet or balancing your emotions.
Because meditation taps into the subconscious it is therefore working on a level that supersedes the physical. This is why meditation is a major part of spiritual practice: it often brings people closer to nature, as well as their idea of deity. Meditation can trigger profound changes in the mind and body of anyone who practices it.
If you’ve always wanted to attempt meditation but never understood how, here’s your chance to change all that.
It is true that some meditations can be cumbersome to learn. The jargon alone can confuse people who aren’t familiar with it.
So here is a quick guide to meditation, simplified to its absolute basics.
- Comfort and quiet are crucial. Don’t bother unless you can be left alone and without distraction.
- Don’t focus too much on forcefully “quieting your mind.” That’s not technically possible. Just allow your mind the opportunity to quiet itself by not letting the thoughts that do enter your head too much attention. Let them come and go of their own accord.
- Find something to bring your attention or awareness to. Many practitioners of deep meditation use the breath as a focal point. You can use a mark on the wall, a picture, a candle flame, a mirror, or anything really, so long as it is simple and easy to focus on.
- Be mindful of your posture. Don’t slouch, don’t clench your jaw. Relax your muscles and breathe evenly.
That’s the essence of meditation. Stillness and focus, with the discipline to keep at it until you get results. Even this extremely simple form of meditation will give you clarity and awareness, you just have to practice it regularly.
The goal is to get to the point where your thoughts no longer run. This “stream of thought” barrage that tends to happen to people first attempting meditation is just the background noise of the ego, nothing more. It will get louder when it realizes you are trying to quiet it.
Some days you’ll find it relatively easy to keep your mind quiet. Other days it will be more difficult. Eventually, however, you will reach deeper places of stillness and begin reaping the benefits of meditation.
For a deeper look at meditation basics, I highly recommend reading up on insight meditation, which is a distillation of the foundations of meditation practice.
Once you unlock your mind, you open yourself up to a world of possibilities. Health, better sleep, spatial awareness, stronger memory, and quicker reflexes are just some of the benefits enjoyed by the practitioners of meditation.
All of this is open to you at any time, you simply have to be willing to take the first step and begin training. Once you get past the first initial hurtles the mind throws at you, you’ll realize why so many people throughout history sing its praises and swear by it.
For more in-depth meditation training, our various self-mastery resources will help you on the Path.