According to Yogapedia, meditation is "the process of quieting the mind in order to spend time in thought for relaxation or religious/spiritual purposes" with the goal of attaining "an inner state of awareness and intensify(ing) personal and spiritual growth." In order to achieve such inner peace and quiet, meditation teaches us to concentrate the mind on a sound, image or feeling (such as the breath or a mantra).
In recent decades, numerous studies have been undertaken documenting the physical and mental health benefits of meditation, including the following:
Increases immune function
Decreases Inflammation at the Cellular Level
Increases Positive Emotion
Increases social connection & emotional intelligence
Makes you more compassionate
Makes you feel less lonely
Improves your ability to regulate your emotions
Improves your ability to introspect
Increases grey matter in the brain
Increases volume in neurological areas related to emotion regulation, positive emotions & self-control
Increases cortical thickness in areas related to paying attention
Increases your focus & attention
Improves your ability to multitask
Improves your memory
Improves your ability to be creative & think outside the box
It makes you wiser (retrieved from Psychology Today)
So if we know how wonderful meditating is for our health and well-being, we should all be doing it, right? WRONG. While Buddhist psychology includes a strong and central emphasis on meditation, many clients are resistant to the practice, saying things such as "My mind is too loud and active, I can't ever quiet my thoughts." This, however, is exactly the point. Meditation doesn't QUIET our thoughts - our thoughts can never be totally erased or eliminated. The brain secretes thoughts like an organ secretes enzymes, it's just part of the physiological process. Meditation teaches us how to relate to our thoughts differently. It teaches us how to create distance between ourselves, who we REALLY are (the "Observer") and our thinking (the "Observed"). In doing so, we're able to step back from our stream of consciousness and realize the most liberating fact of all: that we are not our minds! We learn to tap into the quiet, peaceful space within each one of us that is pure awareness, or presence.
Once we create space between our Selves and our thoughts, we are then empowered to choose whether or not we believe our thoughts. We can choose to "follow a thought down the rabbit hole" and become completely lost in our thinking, or we can choose to anchor ourselves in our breath and stay present, remaining fully alert and awake for each moment of our lives.
(For a great TED talk on meditation, click here.)