Currently, advances in medicine, using technologies and scientific progresses in the treatment of diseases, have achieved an increase in the world population life expectancy. Nonetheless, mental health is still a pending task, screaming for our attention, especially considering that an altered mind is the main cause of death and incapacity: murders, suicide, car accidents and psychiatric illness, are daily news. In this scenario, the practice of lifestyles that promotes healthy minds and that increases life quality, are more than justified. Hence, if we want to acquire such skill, we need to study those who have dominated it, as we did when we were children and we used to learn by imitating our elders.
In this matter, the contemplative-order is the athlete of mental training, tranquility, compassion, connection with oneself and one’s surroundings, as these are qualities they have been deeply cultivated for thousands of years. Yet, as everything we want to achieve, learning tranquility also implies a degree of effort. At the beginning of this training, that focuses on peace and wellness, it is not unusual that thoughts as “I can´t focus”, “I need to have a perfect meditation”, “I can´t stay still”, “Time is not enough”, “I´m not doing it right” and thousands of other thoughts that only cause frustration appear and prevent us from having a favorable experience for our mental and physic health. We should understand that “There is no wrong way to meditate, the correct way is the one that suits you” as it occurs in life itself, there is no correct way of living other than the one that adapts the best to us, something similar to “My way” from Frank Sinatra, which chronicles a man who watches his life with full awareness without judgment by accepting the highs and lows but especially proud of having lived by accepting and enjoying every step.
Photo credit: Julian Facundo Rinaudo
Therefore, despite contemplation and meditation may sound exotic; for certain we have all already done it at some point. For example, if you have hanged out just thinking about something, if you have prayed, if you have observed nature or someone for a few minutes, then you have meditated.
Traditions are associated with main religions, since differences are more semantic, as they preach in a similar way but with different languages, at the end all in some way preach about peace and human compassion.
In the last decades, neuroscientifics have been keen to verify the effectiveness and brain changes that meditative practices can cause, giving greater robustness and reliability to this practice, which in turn has contributed to a greater diffusion even among the hardest atheists and skeptics.
The truth is that science increasingly gathers more evidence that small changes in the mind lead to big changes in the brain and therefore into life experience; since what flows through the mind sculpts the brain, especially if it is constant, giving by it credibility to the phrase: “the main activity of the brain is changing themselves” Marvin L. Minsky.
The main changes in the brain, a tofu alike organ but with, of course, higher functionality, result in neurophysiological modifications translated by the presence of certain brain waves and frequencies denoting synchronicity, which means more coherence between connections and areas, overall in brain function. According to brain scans, meditation can strengthen connections, synapsis between neurons as well as producing more formation of cortical sulcus and gyrus, process associated for some time to faster information processing, decision-making, better memory and attention
In addition, the effects of meditation practice are associated with morphologic changes, such as more density in the gray matter, which has a positive effect by improving cognitive, emotional and immune responses and also in terms of self-control breathing and heart rate. Moreover, other studies suggest that meditation increases the size of the hippocampus and frontal lobe, resulting in more positive emotions, more emotional stability and a more conscious behavior in the day to day life. When we talk about a more conscious behavior, we come to taste and therefore to value manifestations from ourselves and from others, helping to free ourselves from the slavery of automatism “stolen lives” in which we live immersed every day.
Regarding brain function, we know it starts with the usual process of development, and that the brain is constantly changing both spontaneously and in response to external stimulation. For this reason it is very difficult to predict the evolution of a particular brain and the particular direction it will take since depends on a combination of factors, some less modifiable such as acquired diseases, and others more variable as genetics and proper care and nutrition, level of exposure to stress and intellectual culture. We can only assert that if the development is performed in favorable conditions and enriched environments, the likelihood that the person will develop a way to express the best of itself, and by this its full brain and human potential, are greater.
In consequence, despite the romanticism behind “go meditate” or its religious counterpart “Good gives me peace” the truth is that such phrases are growing scientific support, which in turn promotes the idea that a quiet mind will always be more productive cognitively, and this will facilitate adaptation to change and life itself, far from everyday stress and impulsive reactions that tarnish our welfare.
“I think 99 times and find nothing. I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the truth comes to me” Albert Einstein
Dr. Elisa Laconich, PhD in Psychology, specialized in Applied Cognitive
Neuroscience Cognitive behavioral therapist certified by the Albert Ellis Institute
Chief of Neuropsychology and Neurocognitive Rehabilitation Department (CERENIF)
Scientific Director of the Iberoamerican Society of Applied Neuroscience (SINAP)