Many people don’t see the point in meditation, but those who practice it know it’s benefits and now scientific evidence proves it. We have touched on clearing your mind so you can focus on the present moment and thus gain wisdom and insight as to how to better handle life events. Meditating goes hand in hand with this and is a technique that helps you to practice focusing and clearing your mind. And, as mentioned below, scientific evidence shows the physical positive changes meditation has on the brain.
We realize the importance of exercising our bodies and eating right, well exercising the mind is equally important. Without practice, it is not so easy to focus and stay in the present moment. Random stray thoughts occupy the time in our mind that can better be spent paying attention to what is going on directly in front of us so we are able to make wise decisions at any given moment. For most of us, out minds are constantly cluttered to the point where they do not function at their maximum ability. This greatly impairs our decision making, foresight, intelligence and actually causes us to be less able to multi-task because we are not able to finish anything while trying to tackle multiple ideas at once. It is best to focus on one task first, complete it, then move on to the next instead of trying to do 5 things at once and completing none of them effectively.
When most people start meditation, they find it very challenging to clear their minds of all thoughts. This is why it is beneficial to concentrate on a single sound in your environment while trying not to think of anything at the same time. Or, if there are no continual sounds nearby that can help you to focus, this is why many practitioners focus on their breathing to achieve the same goal of using a single, continuous sound to focus on in order to clear their mind of all thoughts.
Once you master being able to achieve clarity of mind during your meditation sessions, then you can practice trying to achieve it during the day while living everyday life. You will be surprised how easy it is once you have mastered meditation sessions, and once you can exist on a daily basis with clarity of mind and focus, you will be astonished as to your mind’s new ability to find answers and solve problems with an ease and awareness you never possessed before. The brain can be so much more than we are able to access when it is cluttered with noise and garbage. It can be an amazing tool of wisdom and perception when allowed to function with clarity and peace.
Practicing meditation basics:
Sitting in the lotus position is not completely necessary to meditate. It is common practice because it helps the body to create a flow of energy throughout all your limbs and organs by maintaining a proper posture while the brain is trying to relax. If you cannot cross your legs in the lotus position, sitting Indian-style will work, or with both feet flat on the ground while sitting upright, or any way that is comfortable for a long period and that allows for good circulation.
It is a common and misunderstood practice to place the hands with one resting on each knee with your index finger touching your thumb. How this rumor got started nobody knows, but it has been difficult to reinstate the traditionally correct placement of the hands during meditation. Joining your hands in the manner shown in the first photo is the truly correct way to place them because it is believed to complete the circle of chi or the necessary life-force that flows through everything. It is more a forming of a circle with the hands that creates a completed and constant flow of energy according to ancient Tibetan masters. Some would argue however, that whatever way you position yourself is fine as long as it lends itself to efficient meditation. Others would argue the proper position is essential to proper meditation. You decide. It really depends on how staunch a supporter you are of the religious, spiritual or traditional teachings. All we can say is, you will never see a Tibetan monk place their hands any other way but to form a circle in their lap as in the first photo, and since they are the meditation experts, we would tend to recommend their methods for total spiritual connecting.
Try to clear your mind of all thoughts for a minimum of 15 seconds at first, then gradually try to increase the length of time you can go without allowing stray thoughts to enter your head. The longer you can go, the easier it will be for you to do it during daily active life. Some teachers of meditation say not to try and block thoughts, but allow them to come and go like the wind, not dwelling or spending any time on any one thought, but recognize it as a thought and move back toward a state on not thinking. Then gradually calm your mind so it is possible to not have any thoughts at all for as long as possible.
Recent scientific brain studies have shown that meditation actually has a physical positive effect on the brain in that a person who meditates has more sense perception and growth of gray matter than a person who does not meditate. Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, was one of the first scientists to take the anecdotal claims about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness and test them in brain scans. What she found surprised her — that meditating can literally change your brain.
“It’s well-documented that our cortex shrinks as we get older – it’s harder to figure things out and remember things. But in this one region of the prefrontal cortex, 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of gray matter as 25-year-olds.”
Lazar’s study revealed:
We found differences in brain volume after eight weeks in five different regions in the brains of the two groups. In the group that learned meditation, we found thickening in four regions:
1. The primary difference, we found in the posterior cingulate, which is involved in mind wandering, and self relevance.
2. The left hippocampus, which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation.
3. The temporo parietal junction, or TPJ, which is associated with perspective taking, empathy and compassion.
4. An area of the brain stem called the Pons, where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced.
The amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety, fear and stress in general. That area got smaller in the group that went through the mindfulness-based stress reduction program. The change in the amygdala was also correlated to a reduction in stress levels.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, exercising the brain correctly has as many health benefits as exercising the body correctly. Therefore, those of you skeptical of practicing meditation for unfounded reasons, such as you think it is only for flaky granola crunchers or something, you now have a scientific reason to take it up. And once you do, you will notice a very positive transformation develop in your thinking process and ability to handle life that will make you look like Einstein to those around you. You will wonder how you ever functioned without it in your life before. And the answer you know will be, “not very well.”
Summary of Step 7: Conquering Negativity.
This all really boils down to fear of disappointment spawned by unrealistic or false EXPECTATIONS. We can’t afford to buy a new car every year like somebody else we know, our job sucks, we don’t make much money etc. In Step 7, we learned how to conquer self negativity that prevents us from growing.