We often refer to meditation as an “exercise,” and say that practicing builds up mental muscles.
That may seem funny to some people, considering all you do is sit still and breathe.
Traditionally we think of exercise as pumping iron in the gym or peddling away on that shiny new Peloton bike.
Those types of exercises are very important for maintaining a healthy body and building up muscle; we know this.
However, exercises of the mind are equally as important. Although it might seem strange, the truth is that meditation builds up muscles just like pumping iron does.
The only difference is these muscles can’t be seen.
Meditation is an exercise of the mind and there are certain “muscles” that we build up when we practice.
Mental muscles are different from our biceps, triceps, and pectorals, but they are just as important. They are muscles that we use every single day for almost every single task.
These muscles of the mind are the basis for everything we experience in our entire lives.
Let’s break down four of the most important muscles.
The Muscles of Concentration and Clarity
When we meditate, we typically choose a central point of concentration to keep us grounded in the moment. Let’s call this an anchor. This can be our breath, sounds, sensations in the body; different anchors work for different people.
When our minds wander during the meditation we bring the spotlight of concentration back to the anchor.
The mind will wander. This is extremely important to understand.
Recognizing that our mind has wandered builds up our muscle of clarity. When we bring the focus back to our anchor, that is when we build up our concentration.
Every single time we do this, recognize our minds are wandering and bring it back, is like doing a mental pushup. Each repetition strengthens the muscles of concentration and clarity.
The Muscles of Equanimity and Kindness
These next two muscles are a bit more subtle.
Equanimity is about staying open and allowing everything to happen as it will. Meditation isn’t about blocking or stopping your thoughts, it’s about allowing them to happen but not becoming absorbed by them.
Every time we sit down to meditate, we activate that muscle of equanimity. We enter this state of relaxed awareness, where we commit to being ok with anything that arises.
Meditation feels weird, strange, and different from anything else we do in life. Especially when we first start out. This is where kindness comes into play.
When we meditate, we choose to be kind to ourselves.
There is no failure, no slip-ups that occur when we practice. When the mind wanders, we gently and kindly shift back to our anchor. The entire process is rooted in self-kindness.
Each time we commit and sit down for practice we are strengthening that muscle of kindness.
Over time, these muscles develop and get stronger. Although mental gains might be a bit harder to see than our biceps and triceps, you will begin to notice positive changes if you stick with it.
You may find yourself more focused, more easy-going, more aware of your patterns and behaviors, and more caring.
This is why we practice.
Build up your own muscles with this free guided exercise.