Reading is to jogging as meditation is to sprinting

I’ve always noticed that my mind just seems to work better after I read a novel for a while.  Most people are already aware that reading makes our minds stronger and that TV makes them weaker.

When people think about the brian as a muscle that needs to be exercised, then the mechanism becomes obvious:  reading makes your brain generate an image (exercise) and TV pushes an image to your brain (no exercise).

So, if we now understand that both consciously generating imagery and subconsciously generating imagery (day dreaming) are good for the mind, why the subject of this article? How does meditation fit in?

Meditation in its simplest form is the act of focusing on one thing only.  However, that thing could be nothing, literally empty space and thus the focus is on preventing anything from entering that space.  In addition, the inverse of this is consciously controlling the image in your mind and actively manipulating it.  Suppose you had a countdown timer in your head and you watched it change every second.  You’ll notice how hard it is to see that clock in your head, and watch it change to the next number, and the next and the next.  This is the exercise part of meditation, it takes a lot of training and energy to expand the time in which you can consciously hold the image you want in your mind.  This is where the training benefit occurs because as you get better at doing this, the better your attention, focus and problem solving will be since you can hold more information at a given time in your conscious mind.

So coming back to the title of this post, when you read, it’s like going for a jog.  It’s an easy form of exercise that’s enjoyable and you can do for an extended period of time.  You do notice that things become easier, you have a bit more energy throughout the day and you might be in a better mood.

Meditation on the other hand is like a sprint.  The intensity is very high and thus you can only do it for a short period of time before your mind gives up.  And in the exact same way that people train in “sprint intervals” these days, it’s true for meditating as well.  When you realize you’ve lost your focus and are seeing other images, you basically come back to the task at hand and try to do it again.  Over time, your mind’s capacity improves and you will be able to stay focused longer and longer.