Meditation: The Science Behind It and How to Do It

Meditation: The Science Behind It and How to Do It

When I say meditation, what do you think? Do you visualize an old Indian man with long dreads who’s been sitting under a tree for the last 20 years? Do you hear a yoga instructor asking you to consider your navel? Do you go back in time to your first Northern California party when a woman named “Sunbeam” lectured you at length on the benefits?

You shouldn’t. In fact, I’m strongly of the opinion that meditation isn’t just some “woo woo” thing for flakes. Think of meditation as weightlifting for your brain. And much like weightlifting, there are about a thousand different ways to do it. But don’t take my word for it. Instead, let’s start by talking about the hard science of meditation and what it can do for you.

Meditation Decreases Beta Waves

Even after the very first time you meditate, you’re going to see a significant decrease in beta waves. What the heck are beta waves? Basically, they’re information being processed by your brain. Why would you want to decrease that? Because most of the information your brain processes is useless junk, a bunch of noise preventing you from focusing on things you actually want to focus on. I’ll talk a bit more about this later when I tell you how to meditate.

Meditation Helps You Focus

One of the most immediate benefits of calming down the beta wave cacophony is an increased ability to focus. You don’t have to run away to the woods to make it happen either. Researchers found that a mere 20 minutes a day, four times a week made a significant difference in terms of ability to focus. And meditation has a cumulative effect to it, so you can imagine what 20 minutes every day will do for you.

Meditation Decreases Anxiety

And while we’re discussing the science of meditation, a decrease in anxiety is one of the more well attested health benefits. This goes back to beta waves again — it’s not just that there are less of them; it’s also what the beta waves are actually doing other than creating a constant chorus of useless thoughts in your head. You’re going to loosen up connections between parts of your brain that tell other parts of your brain to worry about traffic, or your next dentist appointment, or whatever you’re anxious about that you don’t need to be.

Meditation Decreases Your Need For Sleep

One of the more interesting things we know about meditation is that it makes you need less sleep. The study was done on people who just started meditating, not on those who have practiced for years. However, what the study found is that 40 minutes of meditation can be a better means of resting than 40 minutes of sleeping. Keep that in mind next time you run off for 40 winks in the middle of a work day.

Meditation Makes You More Perceptive

A study conducted in 1984 found that those who meditate regularly are more perceptive than those who do not. In short, the researchers found that meditation practitioners needed a shorter period of time to register and recognize stimuli than their non-meditating counterparts.

Meditation Makes Your Brain Bigger

Want a bigger brain? Researchers at Harvard found out that meditation will help your brain to grow bigger by increasing your gray matter. They’re not entirely sure how this is happening quite yet, but further studies are underway. For now, however, we know that meditation is scientifically proven to increase the mass of your brain. Not bad, right?

Meditation Helps You to Be More Compassionate

Being a little — or even a lot — more compassionate can make you a more empathetic friend, partner, and leader. Meditation can help to cultivate that sensitivity. You need to make it a goal of your practice, but if you do, you’re going to have more compassion even when you’re not meditating.

Meditation Will Help You Remember Things

The same study that found meditation increased compassion also found that it helped with rapid memory recall. That is to say, meditation won’t just help you to remember things — it will help you to remember them faster. Whether you want to be a pub trivia champion or you’re working on building mind mansions, a faster recall can be a great tool in your toolkit.

Meditation Increases Creativity

For the entrepreneur or creative professional, creativity is an absolute must. As you probably guessed, meditation is going to help you increase your creativity. Researchers at Leiden University in The Netherlands found that certain forms of meditation open up your mind to new ideas. This isn’t in the abstract. What it means is that your internal censor is less active after certain forms of meditation, allowing you to fully realize ideas that you might otherwise shut down before they fully blossom.

Meditation: How to Do It

As I’ve mentioned, there are tons of different ways to meditate. There’s guided meditation, mantra meditation, Zazen meditation, mindfulness meditation, Tai Chi meditation, transcendental meditation…

You get the idea.

Still, if you’re reading this article, you want to go ahead and get started. So here’s your quick guide from The Art of Charm on how to start meditating right away in a manner that’s going to provide you with immediate benefits.

  • Set the right environment. Turn off your phone. Close the laptop. Don’t play music. Make your environment as quiet and tranquil as possible. Plan to do anything you can to avoid interruption.
  • Set an alarm. Pick a time, starting with ten minutes, though the longer the better. Half an hour is great if you can do it. Set your alarm and forget it. Don’t worry about how long you’ve been meditating or how long you have to go.
  • Get your physical stress out. Progressive muscle relaxation is a great way to prepare for meditation. Spend five or ten minutes doing this before you meditate and it will make a huge difference.
  • Find a comfortable position for sitting. You can sit in a chair, on a pillow, or on the floor. The main thing is that you need to be sitting up, not lying down, as the latter is almost always a recipe for falling asleep. If you want to find a “mystical” pose to help you get in the mood, go for it, but it’s not necessary.
  • Settle into position. Take a couple seconds to settle into position. Wiggle around a little bit. But once you’re set, stay there. In fact, learning to sit still — without moving, scratching, or otherwise adjusting yourself — is a lot of what the early stages of learning to meditate are about.
  • Close your eyes. Some forms of meditation don’t require this. For now, close your eyes.
  • Breathe. A lot of meditation is really just about breathing. There are different ways to do this, but one basic way is what’s called “four fold breath.” Breathe in for four seconds. Hold your breath for four seconds. Breathe out for four seconds. Hold for four seconds. Focus on getting this right for a bit and it will eventually become automatic.
  • Let thoughts flow through you. A lot of guys think they need to fight against thoughts. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, just let them flow by like clouds through the sky. If it helps, say “thinking” when you have a thought and go back to focusing on nothing.
  • Do the time you committed to. Don’t be surprised if it’s difficult to meditate at first. We’re so used to being constantly stimulated that when we’re finally not, it can be uncomfortable or difficult. But do whatever time you set out to do. It’s not going to kill you. On the contrary, in many cases it can be the missing piece of the puzzle. Focusing on quieting our mind allows us to better use it when we need to, rather than constantly being consumed by mental chatter.

As with anything else you’re introducing in your schedule, it’s important to make time for this. One way you can do this is just by blocking it out on your schedule. Then you’re going to find it harder to come up with reasons to not meditate. Even if you can’t do it every day (though you’ll find the best results that way), you can treat it like going to the gym — do it three or even five times a week.

Meditation has a number of proven benefits, but the biggest one is just having a greater mastery over your mind. Leaders and celebrities from Barry Zito and Rupert Murdoch to Rick Rubin and David Lynch meditate. Just like your muscles need exercise, so do your focus and concentration.

Drop us a line on Twitter and let us know how this is working out for you. You’ll notice results immediately and in a week, but the real, powerful, and lasting results are only going to come after several weeks or even months of meditation. The science of meditation is real, and it can make a huge difference in your life. Try it for yourself.

[Featured image by Isabell Winter]