Ancient practice. Modern application
In the last decade, the words “meditation” and “mindfulness” have become so mainstream, and the practices so secularized, that some might not consider their ancient roots. In fact, most forms of meditation and mindfulness utilized today were developed over 2,500 years ago by the Buddha, a man recognized as “the great physician” and the world’s first psychologist.
The surge of interest in those mind-body disciplines and their outcomes points to the effectiveness and timelessness of these ancient tools. They’ve proven so useful that
across America—within the US Military, Fortune 500s, hospitals, correctional facilities, and sports teams—mind-body techniques are being employed to improve everything from combat trauma, employee performance, patient recovery, compassion fatigue, athletic performance, and learning environments for schoolchildren.
Now, researchers from respected institutions like Harvard, Stanford and Johns Hopkins are using technologies like neuroimaging to learn just how this mental education and training supports the brain and body. The takeaway? Train your brain.
The proven benefits
Brain scans of seasoned meditators are proving that we can overcome even the most stubborn mental impediments to gain mastery over our lives. Turns out, we have a lot of control over how we think, feel, perceive and interact with our world. Well-being is not determined by genes, nor is it a fixed result of our environment, past experiences or prior patterns of thought. We can change.
Through deliberate development of virtue, concentration and wisdom, we can activate, strengthen and grow neural pathways and brain regions that lead to a happier, more peaceful mind, while simultaneously weakening those pathways and regions that don’t. But the benefits don’t end with our brain; they extend to our heart and out into the world. With effort, meditation can develop:
Attention, self-reflection and -awareness, reducing discursive thinking and rumination on past and future.
Emotion-regulation, decreasing stress and negative thought patterns that self-perpetuate pain.
Concentration, memory and executive function, helping one lead a full, present and purposeful life.
Empathy centers, lessening ego-centered thoughts and developing compassion in their place.