Updated version. Originally posted on October 22, 2019
Additional to the current science, those who practice, market and train meditation to others have a lot of empirical data on meditation, but do not have a single hypothesis on how it makes the brain powerful.
There are various meditation techniques, but there is only one mechanism that drives them all. Following is the first ever causal explanation of how this millenniums old phenomenon works, which is based on the process of natural selection:
No matter how they are projected, all types of meditation techniques work on a single principle: By restraining the thought process in one way or the other, which triggers the process of homeostasis, resulting into the brain becoming powerful, as explained in detail below.
Because of its engagement with ever changing environments & conditions coupled with unreliability of perceptions, the human brain is designed by the optimizing aspect of natural selection to deal with a large amount of information for its ongoing interactions in order to fulfil its goals of survival and reproduction.
Such information processing involves communication within and between conscious and non-conscious parts of the brain, which are typically processed in the right and left hemisphere respectively.
As non-conscious part of the brain can process a large amount of information simultaneously (parallel processing) but the conscious part has the limitation of only processing one task at a time (serial processing), to optimize its operations, the conscious part processes multiple thoughts in quick succession on different topics, which results into the attention being continuously drifting between such topics.
Even when it is designed for optimizing interactions by making the most out of the time available by the optimizing aspect of natural selection, those who do not know the evolutionary purpose of such continuous activity treat it as a negative feature and call it mind-wandering or monkey mind.
How meditation works: Unlike the non-conscious part, the conscious part of the brain is privileged with the power of making decisions. If it makes the unusual decision of reducing the amount of information that is being processed by either focusing on a single thought or restraining the thought process in some manner, as it is done in various meditating techniques, the non-conscious part of the brain increases intensity of its processing to restore it to the earlier, i.e. higher, level by the process known as “homeostasis”, which is defined as a “process by which the body reacts to changes in order to keep conditions inside the body the same”.
On meditating repetitively, the repetitively increasing intensity of processing to higher levels mentioned above increases the processing power of the brain on a permanent basis.
Various Meditation Techniques
The most optimized form of meditation is to concentrate on your breath. Following is the explanation of how it works:
Because of the ever changing environments & conditions and unreliability of perceptions explained earlier, thinking is a dynamic process which is not designed to stop by the optimizing aspect of natural selection.
The reason meditators are instructed to focus on their breathing in this method is to maintain such dynamism of thoughts, as that it is the only available dynamic process connected to them which is unavoidable while meditating.
As there can be very limited number of possible things that one can do with the restrained thought process, many have come up with variations of meditation that include such possible things.
All techniques, except the technique of mindful meditation, involve restraining the thought process, which triggers the process of homeostasis. When done repetitively, it increases the intensity of brain processing to higher levels, resulting into the brain becoming powerful.
Mindful Meditation: In mindful meditation, the meditator is instructed to attend to experiences he/she is going through without judging them.
How does it work? As we make decisions based on knowledge we have gained from past experiences and how we project them into the future, it is pretty much fixed what decision we will make given a particular set of circumstances. For the same reason, many people get habituated to react to their day-to-day experiences in a fixed manner. With some people, such habituation is so strong; they react to their experiences without giving them a second thought.
Nobody is perfect enough to claim that they always make the best set of decisions to reach their goals. That being the case, such fixed decision making can be disadvantageous, as it does not provide any opportunity to improve.
To benefit from the same, mindful meditation trains people to “hold their horses”. In other words, it saves them from the habit of reacting to their day-to-day experiences in a fixed manner without giving a second thought by putting their judgement and thus, decision making, on hold.