Friday, September 17, 2010

Casual Friday: Meditation

Hello and welcome to Friday! Today I'll give a brief introduction to the benefits of meditation using Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche's The Joy of Living. Born in Nepal in 1975, Yongey is one of the many Tibetan Buddhists to embrace modern science. He is also a best-selling author that is remarkably good at explaining the marriage between the two traditions.

In The Joy of Living, Yongey recounts a study by the neuroscientist Richard Davidson that tested meditation's effect on the brain. Davidson recruited test subjects from a Midwest corporation, hooking them up to an EEG and fMRI to measure their brain activity. He then gave the test group a ten-week course in beginner's meditation (leaving the control group alone, of course). The results were astounding. Even this short experiment produced significant electrical increases in the pleasure centers of the test subjects' brains. They felt happier, calmer, and more compassionate toward others. In blood tests, they also had a higher number of antibodies in their immune system.

So how do you meditate? Well, it's pretty simple actually, but it might not be easy. It's simple because all you need to do is calm your mind. Unfortunately for most of us, that takes practice.

Here's a simple method to get you started:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position.
  2. Really notice what thoughts are going through your head, but don't get attached to any of them. Just let them pass through your mind.
  3. If you want something to focus on, try counting your breaths without letting other thoughts come in. If you get distracted, that's okay. Gently remind yourself to keep counting.

That's pretty much all there is to it. As I said, this is a brief introduction, and other people are better at explaining it than me. The important thing is to PRACTICE. Like most things in life, meditation becomes easier and better the more you do it. Over time, it can actually change the physical structure of your brain for the better (see neuroplasticity).

Anyway, have a happy and calm Friday!

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