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What if I told you that through mental training, you can change, develop, and improve your brain?
What if I told you these positive changes in your mind could then lead to noticeable improvements in areas such as physical performance, productivity, fat loss, and relationships?
This idea that the brain can be altered is known as neuroplasticity.
Many people are under the impression that the brain is a static object, and the brain stays relatively the same throughout your life. This idea is seen through the way we talk about subjects:
“Wow! You’re so good at languages! I don’t have the brain for that.”
“I just wasn’t born to be good at science.”
Okay, guilty as charged. I’ve said this one to my brother before but have since realized that I’m not good with science due to lack of sufficient practice (and interest) in this field. Today, I say something more along the lines of “I have a hard time with science,” which still holds to be true, but not because I was born to be bad at science.
For what it’s worth, my brother was accepted into medical school, meaning that he’s pretty damn good at science. Woohoo! Choosing him as a benchmark for my own competence turned out to be a terrible idea. Tangent! Anyway…
Now that we’ve established the idea of neuroplasticity, let’s talk about meditation, which is a way to essentially train your mind.
What do The Beatles, a chess prodigy, and Kobe Bryant all have in common? They all meditate.
Bestselling author (among many other things) Tim Ferriss and aforementioned chess prodigy (also among many other things) Josh Waitzkin discuss meditation here in a six minute segment from the Tim Ferris Show.
What about Arnold Schwarzenegger? Turns out he also did some form of meditation to handle anxiety.
See the point here? High level performers in various different fields all benefit from meditation. Similarly, athletic performance has been shown to be enhanced by sports visualization, which is similar to meditation.
How is this possible? It turns out that meditation offers many benefits, but first, let’s talk about some misconceptions about meditation.
Meditation is only for the religious.“
Not necessarily true. Meditation can help achieve goals in religion such as mindfulness, but you don’t need to use meditation as a religious practice in order to benefit from it.
I can’t meditate because my mind just doesn’t stop going!“
The point of meditation isn’t to stop thoughts. Thoughts will keep coming, and that’s okay. That’s completely natural. Instead of stopping the flow of thoughts, meditation removes attachment to those thoughts. However, this doesn’t mean that meditation makes you devoid of emotion. You’ll still feel the thoughts but through meditation, you won’t feel controlled by those thoughts. Instead, you’ll sense these thoughts and can appreciate the thoughts or feelings at your own will.
The benefits of meditation have to do with the fact that meditation decreases activity in certain areas of the brain while increasing activity in other areas of the brain. For example, researchers have found that meditation increases activity in the area of the brain associated with positive mood while decreasing activity in the area of the brain related to stress and anxiety.
Consider these benefits of meditation based on numerous studies:
- Stress & Anxiety Reduction
- Depression Prevention
- Cognitive Skills
- Immune function
- Pain control
- Changing habits (such as smoking)
- Heart health
That’s quite a list! These benefits also create a ripple effect, leading to other, possibly unexpected benefits. From my personal experience, these include:
Improved athletic performance
- While training, my pain tolerance increased so I was able to push myself further.
- While competing, I no longer had performance anxiety and felt that my thoughts no longer controlled me.
- Meditation also seemed to help with physical recovery as I felt physically better more consistently this season than any other season. (Higher stress also leads to slower recovery so through feeling less stressed, my recovery was better.)
- Because of my improved focus, I found myself becoming less distracted, allowing me to get more work done.
- Meditation also helps with clearing your mind which allows for better thinking.
- Eating mindfully led to me eating less.
- At times, I was also aware of feeling hungry or having cravings, but after having meditated for a while, the hunger or cravings bothered me significantly less.
Improved presentational skills
- This mostly had to do with being less nervous and being more mindful of the audience.
- While giving college tours to families, I gave better tours (and more interesting ones) while not feeling nervous.
- While presenting on a topic in class or at an academic competition, I spoke more confidently, allowed for more pauses, and delivered the content more effectively.
Compassion and understanding of others
- There have been more than a few moments that I would hear something that I didn’t agree with, but instead of being upset, I considered their perspective and their reasoning behind it. Ultimately, I could walk away from the conversation potentially disagreeing with the other person, but having enough patience to understand their perspective. This also kept me from getting upset, which was also a bonus.
- I seemed less stressed or burnt out compared to past years or semesters, and would feel best after meditation.
Lastly, I know this was previously listed as a benefit, but if this helps at least one other person, then this is worth it. I used to suffer from both depression and anxiety, and meditation helped me in treating both. Meditation is some seriously powerful stuff. For only a few minutes per day, you can feel some serious benefits and ripple effects from practicing meditation.
Who knew sitting down, relaxing, and taking a few deep breaths could be so beneficial?
Guided meditation is a fantastic way to learn meditation. Doing it consistently (even for as little as 5-10 minutes) helps make the habit stick, which I would strongly recommend.
Headspace: free 10 day trial
One of the most popular guided meditation apps. This is the one I use because I wanted to know whether or not I was doing it right. The guidance was fantastic.
The subscription cost isn’t that bad. You’d buy a gym membership if you wanted to work out and get fit. Consequently, wouldn’t you want this for your mind if you wanted to improve your mind? If you buy the yearly subscription, it ends up costing less than the price of one lunch per month.
(Fun fact: Headspace is endorsed by Emma Watson and Gwyneth Paltrow.)
Guided meditation tracks by Tara Brach
These are free tracks and I haven’t used these personally. It’s worth trying if you want a good example of meditation. These are a little longer than Headspace meditation tracks, which has both positives and negatives.