It typically refers to a practice for training your attention. It is an awareness that comes through paying attention in the moment, but non-judgmentally.
It involves sitting down with closed eyes and focussing on feeling your breath go in and out. When your attention starts to wander, you take note and bring your attention back to your breath.
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In 2005, studies began to point out that meditation can change the structure of your brain by thickening the cortex. The cortex controls your attention and emotions.
You can reap the benefits if you practice meditation for half an hour a day over eight weeks.
Meditation shows reduced activity in the amygdala, our brain’s threat detector. When the amygdala perceives a threat, it sets off the fight-flight-freeze response.
In a study, after practicing mindfulness for 20 minutes per day over just one week, participants showed reduced amygdala reactivity only while they were engaged in mindfulness, suggesting they need regular practice.
Loving-kindness and compassion meditation involves cultivating a love for people who are suffering. Loving-kindness meditation can change your neural circuitry even faster than mindfulness meditation.
Typically, in loving-kindness meditation, you repeat certain phrases in your head, such as "may I be safe," "may I be healthy". After you wish these things for yourself, you wish the same things for people you love, and then you circle out.
The idea is that in order to lead a good life, you need to engage in certain self-cultivation practices.
Meditation is not for everyone. For some people, meditation can provoke intense mental distress of impaired physical functioning.
Meditation also makes our compassion more effective.
Buddhists have meditated for literally thousands of years. Buddhists are trying to hack their own minds, to harness them.
Only in recent times have neuroscientists discovered that meditation changes the brain physically.