There’s a lot of buzz about meditation and mindfulness, but what are the real benefits to mental and physical performance? The definition of meditation is the intentional training of two types of attention. Selective attention, which is like your strength, and sustained attention, which is similar to your endurance. Meditation is a workout for your mind to take control of your attention.
When you can take control of your attention, you can also discover more insights about yourself. How do you experience the world? Are you intentional about your reactions? Observing without reacting is the goal. Don’t crave something when it’s pleasant, and don’t pull away when something is unpleasant.
This exercise can help to separate your consciousness from your identity, thoughts and perceptions. In other words, you are not your thoughts and perceptions. They are ever changing. To hold on to them, is like trying to grab a falling leaf. With this awareness, it becomes possible to change your identity and separate your internal state from your external circumstances. This will help achieve emotional balance.
The other jaw-dropping benefits of meditation is that not only does it relax the brain and reduce stress, it can actually change the structure of the brain, increasing grey matter. Meditation has shown to increase neuroplasticity. The more neuroplasticity in your brain, the better its ability to form new synaptic connections, even after traumatic brain injuries or stroke. Increased neuroplasticity can even help those diagnosed with dyslexia.
Multiple studies conducted by leading universities like Harvard, Yale, and Johns Hopkins, show that brain EEGs in meditation–the alpha and theta state—point to a relaxed state and awareness that helps with short-term memory building, focus and emotional wellbeing. Meditation is also a powerful tool in reducing age-related brain degeneration and improving cognitive functions.
If you’re having trouble getting started, there’s a variety of apps that can help guide you through a daily meditation. This will make it easier to incorporate into your routine. The simplest way is just to find a quiet place, close your eyes, and do deep breathing exercises for at least three minutes. You’ll not only feel more relaxed physically, but, with practice, you can increase those “little grey cells.” And maybe increase your chances of finishing that Sunday crossword.
A version of this article was previously published in Thrive Global.