“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment” – Buddha famously said.
This quote perfectly illustrates what 'mindfulness meditation' is all about, as opposed to the various other methods – being present and rooted in the moment that is now.
According to recent research, most people spend up to fifty percent of their time caught up in their thoughts (1) – daydreaming, obsessing over the past, or feeling anxious about the fast-approaching future (2). The reason we have become so sensitive to pressure, overwhelm, worry and stress is the fact that surviving our modern world seems to go hand in hand with leading a hectic lifestyle. However, dashing through the day – every day – without hitting pause to help our minds and bodies recharge is a mindless habit that can bring about serious, negative consequences.
It is crucial for us to learn how to switch from always being in autopilot mode to more fully present human beings. Living in trance-like action is detrimental for peace of mind, therefore the way you manage stress naturally – physically and emotionally – is derailed by lack of mindfulness.
How does meditation change the brain?
“Reality is created by the mind. We can change our reality by changing our mind” – Plato.
A study conducted by Yale looked at what is called ‘the default network of the brain’ – a connected series of the brain regions that are active during most of our waking hours. Scientists concluded that we, as humans, obsess about ourselves, or think about the past and/or what’s going to happen in the future, trying to predict the unpredictable, doing anything but being focused on what’s happening right now – conclusively, negatively impacting our ability to focus the mind positively and boost our cognitive behaviour (3).
What’s more, extensive research from Harvard showed that daily doses of meditation can grow the grey matter in key areas of your brain having to do with self-awareness and compassion (4), and actually shrink the grey matter in the area associated with stress and anxiety (5).
Benefits of meditation science
Meditation techniques that have the power to bring present state awareness long-term, like mindfulness and vipassana (a type of meditation which means to see things as they really are), can turn off this ‘default network of the brain’, even when the person is not meditating. In other words, meditators are setting a ‘new default mode’ – one about a laser focus on what’s happening right now.
There are many physical, emotional, mental and spiritual benefits of meditating regularly – and today, unlike a few years ago, many in the public eye have been opening up about their mindfulness journey and how it helps them to prepare and be the best version of themselves.
For example in the world of sports, many athletes refer to ‘being in the zone’ or ‘in a flow’ when they’re in the spotlight. There’s nothing mysterious or mystical about that – it’s plain proof that you are simply being where you are and where you need to be. It’s about being focused on what you are doing, on your breathing in, and breathing out – and the benefits of that are enormous. In fact, many popular figures have contributed their success to regular mindfulness meditation practice. In fact, world champion tennis player Novak Djokovic says meditating is what helped him overcome anxiety and fear that comes with playing the elite game.
This is precisely why you are seeing more people from all walks of life and industries, from world-class performers, top executives, Olympians, scientists, lawyers, school teachers, doctors, to school children picking up meditation and making it a part of their daily routine. There’s this sort of subculture of high-achievers who are adopting meditation practice as we speak. Why? Well, the science has finally caught up with the ancient stone-set practice and proven that it can help you be more focused on what you are doing right now and help stop your thoughts from going into a deep dive into a negative pool.
What does the future of meditation look like?
Many people believe that meditation is the next big public health revolution. Think about it – in the 1940’s, if you were to mention that you were going for a morning run around the park to clear your head, chances are people would ask, “What for?” or “Who’s chasing you?”. Whereas now, taking care of your mind and body is crucial for survival. So much so, that some schools are even replacing detention with meditation classes… and the results are stunning (6).
Modern science strongly suggests that meditation can have an incredible impact on your mind and body long-term – from boosting your happiness to increasing your productivity and much much more (7). But more importantly, these reports show that soon meditation may become as ingrained as other ‘no brainer’ daily habits, like brushing our teeth twice a day or taking certain supplements every morning.
The most common assumption about happiness that we make is that it depends on a bunch of external factors. In fact, meditation affirms that happiness is a skill. You can train your mind the same way you train your body in the gym. Happiness is a self-generated thing sprouting from within – a radical notion if you think about it. With regular mindfulness meditation practice, you may be able to navigate whatever life throws at you with a little more ease, strength, power and happiness.