Exercise For the Brain

The term mindful meditation may seem counterintuitive at first glance.  As described by Ira Israel (Huffington Post, July 2013), basic meditation is, in fact, an exercise in “mindlessness,” the goal of which is to “trick the mind into releasing itself,” or in other words, to give thinking a rest.  In contrast, mindful meditation is a conscious act wherein we focus our attention on one particular phenomenon, such as our breath or a thought, and then just observe it.  It is an exercise of sustained attention, concentration, and relaxation.

While everyone these days seems to be touting the benefits of both mindfulness (essentially a heightened awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors) and meditation, they should not be dismissed as the latest “buzz words” or trends.  In fact, meditation is one of the oldest mindfulness practices and repeatedly has been demonstrated to improve cognitive functioning and decrease stress.

As written by Maria Konnikova in the New Yorker, 2014 (http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/an-antidote-for-mindlessness), mindful meditation strengthens “certain neural structures that are tied to heightened attention and focus” and improves “self monitoring and control” by “bolstering connectivity in the brain’s default mode network.”  Further, mindful meditation also can serve a protective function against the impact of daily stressors, both affectively and cognitively, so that over time, those who practice it become increasingly resilient.

In sum, exercising your brain with mindful meditation can enhance your overall cognitive functioning and emotional well-being, and in the long run, lessen the psychological burden of daily challenges and struggles. So take your brain for a run and make meditation a part of your regular exercise routine.