Meditation, a process

Emory University researchers analyzed the brains of people aged 28 to 66 who practiced meditation regularly (for at least 1 year). They highlighted the trajectory the brain follows when we meditate. The meditation would include four main phases which follow one another in the following way:

  • Concentration
    Focusing on an object such as breathing, a part of the body, compassion, the flame of a candle, a sound…
  • Wandering
    Occurs when the brain is strongly tempted by “default” thoughts, ruminations, things to do etc.
  • Awareness
    Happens when the meditator realizes that their mind is wandering and is no longer focused.
  • Seesaw
    Represents the moment when the meditator brings his attention back to the object of meditation, he concentrates again.

The researchers identified patterns of neuron activation during each of these four phases. During the focus (1), awareness (3), and flip (4) phase, activity was detected in regions associated with attention and executive.

Wandering (2) is associated with the default mode network (streams of negative random thoughts). Meditation thus activates certain regions of the brain, while inactivating unconscious automatic thoughts.

The beginnings of meditation

So, stay confident if you consistently feel distracted and have trouble maintaining focus. This is completely normal ! Very few are the people who switch quickly into bliss and manage to stay there for a long time (or forever), such as the Buddha after awakening.

Advanced meditators can last 60 seconds in an enlightened state, while novices cannot last 10 seconds. But the more you repeat the practice, the more neuroplastic changes you induce. Brain regions are developing, such as those of happiness, calm, inner peace, and it becomes always easier to access these states (and to hold them longer).

Quality before quantity

Nevertheless, although the number of hours spent meditating will make you a more and more experienced meditator, the quality of the meditation does matter. Indeed, you can spend long hours sitting thinking and meditating, when in reality, you are only reinforcing unconscious automatic thoughts.

In the period of time that you devote to meditation, it is therefore necessary to distinguish between the time when you are really in meditation and the time when you are wandering. Sitting with your eyes closed to wander around makes no sense! It is better to sleep or to activate in a task that we like!

The more you practice bringing your attention back to the present moment (or meditation object), the easier it is for you to reach a true state of meditation (alpha waves and beyond).

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