… And why — despite meditation’s brain-changing power — most people still don’t meditate
The benefits of meditation have been known for thousands of years. Long-term meditators have a certain je ne sais quoi, a presence, an enviable way of carrying themselves.
When we see an experienced meditator, we often think, “I wish I could be like that!”
What’s more, in the last several decades scientists have confirmed the benefits of meditation with stacks of research studies, and have even identified the parts of the brain that are changed by meditation.
Apparently, though, many people are saying, “So what?”
Despite the research and the astounding positive changes meditation creates, even those who know they should be meditating have trouble sticking with it.
Let’s face it. Meditation is difficult to learn, it takes a long time to master, and it takes a long time to see real results.
There is a solution to this problem, though — in fact, a rather elegant one. Before we look at that solution, let’s look at some of the amazing ways meditation changes your brain.
#1. Meditation lowers stress — and helps you feel a lot better.
Meditation activates your parasympathetic nervous system — the source of what Harvard researcher Dr. Herbert Benson called the relaxation response.
It also calms your sympathetic nervous system, the source of the stress-inducing fight or flight response, while reducing cortisol, the main stress hormone.
Meditation also increases levels of many “feel-good” neurochemicals, including serotonin (low levels are associated with depression), acetylcholine (
“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”
― T.S. Eliot
Increased awareness allows you to observe how you create feelings and behaviors … as (or even before) you create them … seeing the consequences, as they happen.
Awareness is a function of several brain areas, but a great deal of it happens in the prefrontal cortex, the seat of what scientists call executive control, or self-regulation — the part of the brain responsible for:
- Self-control and willpower
- Complex cognitive behaviors
- Personality expression
- Decision making
- Regulating social behavior.
A meditation-enhanced prefrontal cortex allows you to differentiate between conflicting thoughts, predict outcomes, set expectations, and suppress urges that might lead to non-resourceful outcomes — like talking back to the cop who pulled you over, eating three more donuts, or putting off working on your goals.
Right now, you’re probably creating important parts of your experience of life outside your awareness. Because of that, they seem to happen automatically. In other words …
… they aren’t a choice.
Feelings, for instance, often seem to just happen, either in response to something you experience or just out of the blue. They are, however, generated by internal cognitive events.
Awareness of these events, as they happen, allows you more choice about how you feel (and behave).
The idea that feelings and other internal states could be a choice seems improbable to most people — because they don’t have the awareness to clearly see how possible it really is.
How would this change your experience of life?
- Choose to drop bad habits …
- Have fewer unpleasant feelings …
- Be less reactive emotionally …
- Take action when you want to or know you should …
- Act less often in a way you later regret …
- Feel happier and have more inner peace …
- And a lot more.
More choice would clearly change your life.
Awareness is the fundamental ingredient underlying all positive change. A lack of awareness stymies us from making the changes we want to — about our emotional health, success, lifestyle and eating habits, or anything else.
#3. Meditation increases emotional intelligence.
Long-time meditators are better able to read the emotions of others and feel empathy toward them. They’re also better able to harness emotions (even negative ones) to facilitate problem solving and goal achievement.
Because meditation has rewired their brains to better comprehend “emotional language” (through neural connections linking the prefrontal cortex, the source of executive control, and the amygdala, the brain’s emotional hub), meditators more easily navigate emotionally complex situations and are less reactive.
Brain scans, in fact, show that brain areas involved in emotional calmness and executive control are thicker and more active in meditators than in non-meditators.
#4. Meditators more easily experience flow states.
There are six characteristics of flow states:
1) Effortless, focused concentration (a function of an enhanced prefrontal cortex).
2) A merging of action and awareness, creating more behavioral choice — for instance, to act (as when working toward a goal), or avoid acting (where a rash action might create unpleasant consequences).
3) A decrease in “reflective self-consciousness.” In other words, less “apprehensive evaluation” and “second guessing” while acting. In a flow state you know just what to do — doing “flows” through you, without the need for monitoring and evaluation.
4) Effortless personal control or agency. Heightened meditative awareness increases intentionality, certainty of action, and a sense of confident personal control or agency in whatever you do.
5) Time distortion. Absorbed in the moment, you lose track of time (in a good way). You’re present, “in the moment.”
6) All tasks become intrinsically rewarding. Whatever you do seems intrinsically meaningful — and therefore satisfying. This meaningfulness is absent in those who are depressed or hopeless. Due to meditation-induced brain changes, long-time meditators see meaning everywhere.
#5. Meditation increases executive control.
Meditation increases gray matter (neurons) in brain areas responsible for attention and sensory processing. As a result, sensory information is gathered and processed more accurately. This improves and enhances:
- Reward anticipation (for instance, deferment of immediate gratification in favor of future rewards)
- Decision making
- Impulse control
- Emotional control.
As more brain “real estate” is assigned to executive control, the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s executive controller, actually becomes thicker.
#6. Meditation increases “perceptual objectivity.”
Instead of automatically projecting qualities onto what they observe, meditators clearly see the difference between what they observe and their interpretation of it.
A long-term meditator would be, for instance, less likely to assume that a setback meant that success was impossible, or that a frown indicated that someone didn’t like them.
This objective perception also increases how much is noticed in a given situation.
#7. Meditation increases the ability to make beneficial alpha and theta brain wave patterns.
Twenty-four hours a day, as nerve cells in your brain communicate, they generate electrical impulses that fluctuate rhythmically in distinct patterns called brain wave patterns.
These patterns are closely correlated with
- Your thoughts …
- Your emotions …
- Your state of being …
- The functioning of the various systems of your body, and, in essence …
… the entire quality of your life!
The average non-meditator is making mostly beta brain waves. Beta is associated with concentration, arousal, alertness, and cognition.
High frequency beta waves, though, are associated with anxiety, stress, disharmony, dis-ease — the fight or flight response.
As you relax, your brain waves slow into an alpha pattern, the brain wave pattern most often associated with meditation. Alpha is also associated with superlearning — the ability to learn, process, store and recall …
… large amounts of information quickly and efficiently.
When you’re absorbed in a good book or a television show, and you’ve blocked out your surroundings, you’re making alpha waves.
Unfortunately, most people have trouble making alpha waves.
Slower still are theta waves, the brain wave pattern of dreaming sleep, and more advanced meditative states.
Theta is also associated with:
- Creativity (when you have an “Ah-ha!” experience, where you suddenly “get it,” you’re making bursts of theta waves)
- Increased memory abilities
- Visionary experiences (dreams as well as visions during meditation)
- Integrative experiences (where we make broadly-based positive changes in the way we see ourselves, others, or certain life situations).
When making theta waves, self-sabotaging left-brain filters are bypassed making it much easier to change beliefs or habits.
Though advanced meditators easily make theta waves, most people find this difficult.
Why, then, with all these benefits, aren’t more people meditating? Because meditation is difficult to learn and it takes a long time to see real benefits.
Most people quit long before they see real results.
Luckily, in addition to validating the benefits of meditation, modern research has also led to the creation of technological ways to create the brain states and benefits of traditional meditation.
And, to allow anyone to get the same result in a fraction of the time.
One such tool, Holosync audio technology, has been used by over 2.2 million people in 193 countries and is recommended by many top meditation teachers and personal growth teachers.
Using sound to stimulate two organelles in the brain’s auditory processing system (the olivary nuclei), Holosync re-creates the brain wave patterns of traditional meditation, calms the “fight or flight” limbic system, and enhances the prefrontal cortex.
Best of all, this technological method allows one to skip the long learning curve and meditate deeply the first time and every time — and begin seeing results right away.
To experience the brain-changing effects of Holosync for yourself, just click here.
Enjoy a few of my favorite quotes on meditation and have a wonderful Sunday!
“Awareness is the fundamental ingredient underlying all positive change. A lack of awareness stymies us from making the changes we want to — about our emotional health, success, lifestyle and eating habits, or anything else.” Bill Harris
“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things – that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It’s a discipline; you have to practice it.”
― Walter Isaacson,
“I’m simply saying that there is a way to be sane. I’m saying that you can get rid of all this insanity created by the past in you. Just by being a simple witness of your thought processes.
It is simply sitting silently, witnessing the thoughts, passing before you. Just witnessing, not interfering not even judging, because the moment you judge you have lost the pure witness. The moment you say “this is good, this is bad,” you have already jumped onto the thought process.
It takes a little time to create a gap between the witness and the mind. Once the gap is there, you are in for a great surprise, that you are not the mind, that you are the witness, a watcher.
And this process of watching is the very alchemy of real religion. Because as you become more and more deeply rooted in witnessing, thoughts start disappearing. You are, but the mind is utterly empty.
That’s the moment of enlightenment. That is the moment that you become for the first time an unconditioned, sane, really free human being.”
“It does not matter how long you are spending on the earth, how much money you have gathered or how much attention you have received. It is the amount of positive vibration you have radiated in life that matters,”
― Amit Ray,
About the author
Brain expert Bill Harris is founder and CEO of Centerpointe Research Institute and the creator of Holosync® audio technology, used by 2.2 million people in 193 countries.
Author of two bestselling books, Bill is a frequent speaker at scientific and transformational conferences and is known for his ability to explain difficult subjects in an engaging and easy to understand way. He has shared the stage with top human potential leaders, including The Dalai Lama, Jack Canfield, Dr. Stephen Covey, and Ken Wilber.