It’s not uncommon for people to mention meditation as a natural remedy for mental health. But how much do you know about meditation?
Besides the commonly discussed benefits, do you know how can meditation reshape your brain and help you to live happier and more fulfilled?
The answer lies in this book – Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom.
In the book, the 2 authors, Dr. Rick Hanson and Dr. Richard Mendius give a very comprehensive view of why are we doing meditation, how our brains work, and how is meditation beneficial to our brain from their latest neuroscience discoveries.
In today’s book review, I will share a summary of the few meditation practices mentioned in the book, together with some of my insights, and why you should read it.
Table of Contents
What is the goal of meditation?
According to the author, the pillar of the practice is to strengthen the 3 fundamental functions of the brain: regulation, learning, and selection.
Through the betterment of these 3 functions, we are able to develop further in 3 areas – virtue, mindfulness, and wisdom.
Virtue, mindfulness, and wisdom are the 3 pillars of Buddhist practice, which are also equivalent to happiness, psychological growth, and spiritual realization in our everyday life.
The unhappiness and dissatisfaction we experienced are all created by our brains. They are created, not what we originally had.
Since they are being created by our brains, there is no doubt that we can also solve them by working on our brains.
We know that our brain is a highly active and malleable learning machine. We have the ability to modify and change to be happier and wiser by practicing meditation.
5 Daily Calm Meditation Practices
Here is a summary of 5 of the guided meditation practices mentioned in the book. I strongly recommend you to read more in detail in the book as the instruction is more complete.
1. The 5 minutes beginner meditation
If you have been deeply focused on an activity, including looking up to the starry night or staring at a piece of leaf, you have experienced meditation already.
If this is your first time doing meditation, find a comfortable undisturbed environment and sit up straight.
You can sit with your leg crossed or on the edge of the chair.
Do not slouch or over straining your back.
You can light up a candle, have some nice scent, and soft music that can help you to relax.
Let’s take 5 deep breaths. Allow yourself to fully immerse in the inhale and exhale.
Breathe in deeper than any other breaths you have been taking in the day. While inhaling, count 1 to 5.
Pause at the top of your breath.
Then, exhale. Count from 1 to 5 as well.
Keep your inhale the same duration as an exhale.
After the end of the exhale, pause for a second too.
Do you feel much calmer and relaxed just by taking 5 deep breaths?
Do you feel the tension slowly leaving your brain as you exhale?
You will start to feel refreshed, energetic, and able to focus better again.
2. Practice equanimity
What is equanimity?
Equanimity is a perfect, unshakable balance of mind.Nyanaponika Thera
Our brain is designed and evolved in a way that we will react to different things. Equanimity is the circuit breaker that stops our brain from being affected by all the externalities and keeps us calm and peaceful.
Equanimity does not mean indifference but stopping the auto-response towards things. We feel the emotions but we don’t have to be carried away by them.
Begin the practice by closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths. This allows you to feel calm and relaxed.
Focus your attention on your body parts.
Start to be aware of your feelings. If your feelings are pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.
Whatever you feel, just accept them at ease.
Be aware of the sounds around you.
Meanwhile, you could sense the thoughts going in and out of your mind.
All the little thoughts come along with emotion. You can observe these emotions and thoughts.
Just observe them like a bystander. Watch them come and go.
You don’t have to acknowledge them because they do not play a part in your happiness.
By practicing, you will start to place a distance between your thoughts and feelings.
Whether the thoughts or emotions are pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, you don’t have to evaluate them further or be immersed in them.
3. Meditation for balance and staying grounded
Do you often feel over-stressed from your hectic schedule?
You felt annoyed by the congested traffic or pedestrian walking slowly.
Even if you are so tired, you are still forcing yourself to continue on the next task, next goal, or next assignment.
You can’t relax well even on a rest day because you feel you are wasting time whenever you are not working or studying.
Let’s relax by doing this meditation practice together.
Take a deep breath and let yourself relax.
You can close your eyes or maintain a soft gaze.
Listen to the sounds around you.
You don’t have to evaluate them. Just listening.
Tell yourself that you are meditating and all the other things can be done later. Imagine you are putting all your tasks and worries in a big sack, throw it aside for now.
Focus your attention on your breathing.
Don’t try to control them. Inhale and exhale naturally.
Feel the rise and fall of your abdomen, and fresh air entering your body.
When you are breathing, you can count numerically with each inhale. Count to 10.
Once you reached 10, start from 1 again.
Even if you are distracted in this process, it’s alright.
Just be gentle and focus on breathing again.
Don’t have to fight your thoughts or be immersed in your thoughts. Use your breathing as an anchor.
You will feel the tranquility building up and feel the peace rising from within.
4. Meditation for happiness
Think of something pleasant that would bring a smile to your face.
Even if it’s something small in daily life.
Think about kids playing happily at the playground.
Think about the taste of your favorite fruit.
Think about the lovely nature.
Think about your loved ones.
Think about the warm sunlight shining on your chest.
Now, close your eyes.
Focus your attention on these beautiful images in your mind.
Open your heart and filled it with joy.
Try to immerse in these positive feelings as long as possible. Focus only on these happy images.
The longer you stayed with this happy feeling, the stronger impact you will see in your overall emotional wellbeing.
5. Meditation for inner strength
Take a deep breath and focus on your body.
Feel the energy and the feeling followed by each breath.
Feel the strength from your body, your muscle and how are they able to move freely.
Think back on the times when you felt strong.
Now with every inhale and exhale, imagine that feeling coming back to you.
Your breath is full of strength, and your arms and legs are full of strength.
This energy is following you and flowing in your body.
You can feel the strength in your pulse and heartbeat.
You feel stronger, your mind is clearer and more determined.
Continue to feel this power in you.
You can also think about someone who had or has been giving you massive support.
Be as detailed as possible.
Think of his/her voice, face, and actions, and how you have been supported, admired, and trusted by this person.
Let yourself be immersed in this feeling for a while.
Even if there are other emotions or thoughts popped up during this process, it’s completely fine. Just watch these thoughts come and go.
Feel the power in you, the power in your breath, in your conscious mind, and in your whole body.
Why should you read Buddha’s Brain?
1. Detailed guided meditations
Besides the 5 meditations mentioned above, the book has also covered many other meditations for focus, restoring kindness, and empathy.
It’s a great beginner guide to the basic practices of different meditation. You can follow along or read them to gain the ideas and meaning behind the practice.
As you further your practice, you can combine the few methods or in your own way to practice them.
2. Understand your brain, your emotion, and your behavior
The authors have used a holistic approach to explain meditation.
Being a neurologist and neuropsychologist, Dr. Rick Hanson shared his expertise and extensive knowledge of our brain and nervous system.
It’s a great and insightful book for you to understand how the brain and emotions work in simple terms.
By understanding our brains better, we can understand how we can do in daily life to enhance and develop them on top of meditation practice.
3. Buddha’s wisdom in various aspects of life
It’s definitely not just a book covering meditation, but the wisdom in everyday life.
Buddhism is one of the world’s largest religions and originated 2,500 years ago.
Meditation is a yogic practice used by Buddhists. In order to understand the practice on a deeper level, we can read more about the Buddhism wisdom and values in this book.
The book has covered various topics on the sufferings and unhappiness we have in daily life, and how can we dissolve this hatred by empathizing with people, or stay calm and tranquil in various situations, or staying focused in our daily life.
Let me use the author’s words as the summary. “You can do small things inside your mind that will lead to big changes in your brain and your experience of living…When you change your brain, you change your life.”
I wish we all can live better by keeping consistent with practice.
If you want to read more on meditation for unwanted thoughts, you can read this post for more.
Share with me your insights from meditation in the comment section.
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