The Power Of Meditation

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Don’t stress! Although, it’s hard not to after Columbia Medical Research Centre found that people who reported high levels of daily stress are 27% more likely to suffer from a heart attack, as published in the American Journal of Cardiology. The results of the study don’t seem too dramatic when in numerical form, but as if the researchers knew I would say that, a more conceivable simile was offered. Researchers wrote that the effect of stress is so profoundly damaging to the body and mind, that it is comparable to smoking five cigarettes every day. Ouch.

These findings are frightening to most, who, despite efforts to reduce their daily stress content, find the task much easier said than done. Life is hectic, work is chaotic, and unless the universe suddenly christens you with a billion dollar fortune inherited from some great grandfather you never knew you had, stress will continue to be ever-present. The question of stress then becomes a question of stress reduction, and the modes through which an individual may begin to reduce his or her experience of stress. And while there are many prescribed stress-reducing practices, none are as tried and tested as the eastern practice of meditation, supported by both science and time as a proven remedy for stress and a catalyst for happiness.

What Is Meditation?

The first thing to know about meditation is that it is not a singular practice, but one which diverges into many different forms and types. There are five types of meditation according to traditional practice: primordial sound meditation, mindfulness meditation, zen meditation, transcendental meditation, and Kundalini yoga. The type of meditation I’d like to focus on, and the type which is specifically aimed at dissipating stress, is mindfulness meditation, which entails the focusing of the mind on a singular object or sound until all stress, inducing thoughts, are purged. Mindfulness meditation emphasizes the brain's ability to focus, and is often performed by paying unwavering attention to your own breath as you inhale and exhale perpetually. By listening to the sound, focusing on the feeling, and keying in on the rhythm of breathing, mindfulness meditation allows the mind to experience a euphoric calm which rejuvenates and revitalizes physically and psychologically.

How Meditation Affects The Brain

For thousands of years before modern day science existed, meditation was religiously (literally, in the case of Buddhism and Hinduism) practiced despite any proof of its effect. Today, during an age defined by the capabilities of science and technology, we are able to perform experiments which can definitively prove the usefulness or uselessness of a stress reliever like meditation. Using technology like fMRI scans, scientists have come up with a thorough understanding of meditation's effect on the brain, and the findings are positive.

The general conclusion on meditation is that it slows the speed at which the brain processes information, causing it to become much less active and more at ease. As specimens who process between 35 and 48 thoughts every minute, being able to momentarily reduce our natural processing speed is a valuable skill, and one which greatly reduces stress. During meditation, the human mind begins to show a decrease in beta waves, which indicate that the brain is processing information. Even after only 20 minutes of meditation, an fMRI will show a substantial decrease in the amount of beta waves being produced from the brain. In the image below, one can see the dramatic change in beta waves from before the individual meditated (left) to after the individual meditated (right). Thanks, science.

How Meditation Affects Life

Now that you have a general understanding of how meditation neurally affects the brain, it’s time to dive into the way meditation can, and will, affect your everyday life. To meditate is to essentially train your mind to be the best it can be, and with optimized senses, life inadvertently becomes better. With less stress clouding the vast plains of your mind, daily tasks become a walk through the park on a sunny day, and the frown which came to characterize your face quickly turns into cheeky smile. Clarity, focus, and vitality come more naturally than they ever had before once you begin to meditate regularly, and while you will still encounter stress throughout each and every day, your psyche will be much better at letting stressful thoughts go. Here are some of the ways the power of meditation will help you in living a healthier lifestyle overall:

Better Focus

Because mindfulness meditation is designed around training the mind to focus at a heightened level, everyday meditators will notice that their ability to focus on the granular continues beyond their meditative state, and aids them in their lives by increasing productivity and quality of work. The mind becomes used to the feeling of focus through the practice of meditation, and is more aware of when our train of thought drifts. These lasting effects of meditation speak to one of the most overstated bouts on meditation there is:

Focused attention is very much like a muscle, one which must be strengthened through exercise.

Less Anxiety/Stress

The more an individual meditates, the less anxiety they feel throughout the course of their lives. This is because meditation, in fact, loosens the connection of particular neural pathways, allowing us to be more observational about stressful moments in our lives and less directly involved. At first, this may sound like a bad thing. But I can assure you, it’s not. Let me explain:

The medial prefrontal cortex is the region of the brain responsible for processing information relating to ourselves or our experiences. Sans meditation, the neural sensors which connect bodily sensations and fear would have an extremely intense connection, causing scary or upsetting situations to trigger strong reactions within your medial prefrontal cortex that would make you feel afraid or under attack. When you meditate, however, the neural connection between this region of the brain and anxiety-related sensations is weakened, allowing you to react more calmly to scary or upsetting situations. With these connections weakened, a well-meditated individual will be able to see the world more rationally, and with an increased clarity not capable to those who don’t meditate.

To get a better idea of how this relationship between meditation and reduced amounts of anxiety/stress, Psychology Today offers this example:

When you experience pain, rather than becoming anxious and assuming it means something is wrong with you, you can watch the pain rise and fall without becoming ensnared in a story about what it might mean.

More Creativity

Along with increased clarity comes an increased ability to take an idea and warp it into a million more. Meditation is a natural incitement for creativity, mainly, because of the focus it brings to the mind. One of the greatest inhibitors of creativity is a crowded conscious, hampering a creative thinker by drowning great ideas in oceans of bad ones. Through meditation, an individual is better able to distinguish breakthrough ideas and apply them to the real world. Meditation is a must for artists of all mediums.

More Energy

As one becomes better at following a meditation regime, they will begin to find that they are more energetic. This is due to the reduced amount of information processed by the mind on a daily basis. During meditation, the mind and body transition into an extremely relaxed state akin to napping. This moment of R&R for the body, mind, and soul, plays a large part in rejuvenating the body once a meditation session is finished. Meditation can also serve as an ideal substitute for coffee or other forms of caffeine boosts. Replacing the daily cup of joe with a meditation session eliminates the perpetual high and low of the caffeine surge and crash, and this, too, will allow one to feel sustainably energetic.

These four effects on the body and mind are only some of the many benefits meditation can offer an individual. The power of meditation is invaluable and rejuvenating, serving as a way for people around the world to increase their quality of life. Many forget that meditation, while pleasurable on a short term basis, is a wise investment in the long term, as it is a proven to preserve life by reducing the harmful damages of stress. Meditation brings happiness, and for that reason and that reason alone, it should be practiced not only by those in the eastern hemisphere, but here in the west. We are a stressful bunch, many of whom are smoking five or more figurative cigarettes a day because of our preposterous daily intake of stress. To live healthfully is to know when let go, close your eyes, and find solace in the comfort of “Om.”

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Stephan Aarstol is an American internet entrepreneur and author of the book The Five Hour Workday, which is based on Tower Paddle Boards' invention of the 5-hour workday in 2015 that would eventually spread the idea to over 10 million people worldwide. Since founding Tower in 2010, it has gone on to become one of America's fastest growing companies and Mark Cuban's best investment in the history of Shark Tank. Tower has diversified into a direct to consumer electric bike company called Tower Electric Bikes, a beachfront event venue called Tower Beach Club, and, where consumers can shop all the world's finest direct to consumer brands from one easy place.