Meditation is to your brain what running is to your heart. Until very recently, meditation was treated as something spiritual. It was mostly confined to religion, hippies, and yoga classes. But that’s quickly changing as neuroscience research uncovers the very real impacts and benefits that meditation has for your brain.

Recent research has demonstrated that meditation has a range of effects. It’s as effective as anti-depressants in preventing a relapse into depression [19], helps competitive sharp shooters score higher than competitors who don’t meditate [20], and people who practice meditation 30 minutes per day for 8 weeks have noticeably different brain structures and activity than those who don’t [21]. Meditation has left the temple and entered the lab and researchers are finding that meditation is for anyone interested in improving their health.

Here’s a simple meditation exercise:

ONE BREATH

1. Take a deep breath, and concentrate on that breath and nothing else. Clear your brain of any thoughts. Breathe in. Hold the breath. And then exhale.

2. Now take a deep breath, and concentrate on that breath and nothing else. Keep your brain clear of any thoughts. Breathe in. Hold the breath. And then exhale.

3. You’re only taking one breath. You take one breath and then you take another one.

4. How many times can you take one breath before a thought pops into your head and you start to chase it? When that happens, start over.

Meditation is an exercise. At first you won’t be able to take many breaths before thoughts intrude. But the more you do it, the more breaths you’ll be able to take. Your brain is very similar to a muscle—the more you exercise it, the stronger it will get.

The ability to clear your mind strengthens connections between your prefrontal cortex (the planning area of your brain) and the limbic system (the organs at the base of your brain that handle urges, emotions, and automatic reactions) [22]. By building those connections, you improve your ability to reflect on your urges and plan decisions more effectively and beneficially.

This was an excerpt from The Acceptance Field Guide: Navigating anxiety and depression in an uncertain world, which explores how to practically apply the concepts of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy to overcome anxiety and compulsive behaviors in your daily life.

The Acceptance Field Guide is available for $2.99 on Amazon: www.amazon.com/Acceptance-Field-Guide-Navigating-ebook/dp/B006W950CG/