The Misconceptions of Meditation

Friday, November 30th, 2018

Many people have this idea that meditation involves sitting down and doing nothing. But this is a misconception. Meditation is an active process, an exercise for the brain. The aim of the exercise is to become consciously aware of your thoughts and feelings without judging them. Meditation is not about trying to turn off your thoughts and feelings, but instead allowing them to come and go without resistance. Meditation is a skill; similar to any skill, it takes practice to get comfortable with. But over time and with consistent practice, meditation can bring extraordinary benefits to your daily life.

Improvements in attention and concentration are some of the central benefits of meditation. These benefits give rise to increased cognitive functioning, which allows you to be more productive and focused during the day.

Meditation has also been shown to improve overall psychological well-being by relieving stress, anxiety and depression. Scientific research studies have suggested that meditation can be just as effective as antidepressants at reducing symptoms of depression. Due to its stress-reducing effects, meditation also has the potential to improve our quality of sleep. Sleep is vital for our health and daytime performance, and meditation can help you overcome insomnia and achieve a good night's rest.

Meditation has also been shown to facilitate recovery from various types of addictions. A study comparing the success of meditation training with an American Lung Association's Freedom From Smoking program found that people who learned meditation were many times more likely to quit smoking than were people who completed the conventional program.

One of the most powerful benefits of meditation is its ability to increase self-awareness. Self-awareness involves looking inward at oneself without judgment. Self-awareness can be achieved by connecting to the present moment with an objective perspective that allows us to experience each moment without reacting impulsively. Self-awareness is a vital ingredient to achieving success in all areas of our lives.

All of these amazing benefits occur through measurable changes that meditation makes to our most important organ, the brain. Studies have revealed that people who practise meditation regularly have a shrunken amygdala, the brain region that governs the fear and anxiety response. This structural change in the brain corresponds with the decreased self-reported stress and anxiety levels of these individuals. Additionally, meditation reduces activity in the default mode network (DMN), the brain network responsible for mind-wandering or "scatterbrain." Quieting the DMN gives rise to the increased focus and concentration benefits of meditation.

Is meditation worth it? It's certainly worth a shot. If you're not sure where to start, guided meditation apps such as Headspace, Calm, and 10% Happier make incorporating meditation into your daily routine easy and convenient. Next time you have a few minutes in the morning or evening, try following a guided meditation to quieten your mind. Notice the difference in how you feel after using these minutes to meditate versus using them to scroll through social media. Chances are you and your brain will be much calmer and clearer.

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This column was written by BSW intern Audrey Kao and first appeared in the New Hamburg Independent: www.newhamburgindependent.ca


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