Natural selection has shaped our emotional machinery to maximize our chances of survival (and reproduction) in a very different environment than today.

In the modern world, our pre-programmed emotional responses are not necessarily the most appropriate. To improve our effectiveness, we need to adapt our ancestral wiring to today’s reality.

In this sense, stoicism and meditation are the most powerful weapons of my mental arsenal.

Meditation is much more than a relaxation strategy. It has the power to mold your brain and modify the expression of your genes. It has the power to change your life.

To talk about meditation today we have Guillermo Muñoz, author of this article and “creator of Fitness Vitae, a blog that gives a biopsychosocial approach to fitness: it takes into account body, mind and the environment in which we develop.

“Our minds are all we have”- Sam Harris

As a society we invest a lot of time and energy in improving our body, but very little in improving our mind. This discrepancy can be costly, not only for our health, but for the satisfaction we get in life.

We spend half of our lost days in our thoughts (study). We contemplate things that happened in the past, things that might happen in the future, or fantasize about things that will probably never happen.

We rarely are.

And, according to many (especially among New Age movements), the key to well-being and happiness is “living in the moment. But this phrase is simplistic, it implies that we must resist our thoughts, that we must always “be here, now,” and that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Furthermore, saying “live in the moment” is not practical advice; how to achieve it is rarely explained.

The problem is not the thoughts themselves, but not being aware that we are lost in them. One solution to this state so characteristic of the human condition is meditation, the practice of which can improve our mind, our body and, ultimately, our life.

What is meditation, why should we practice it, and more importantly, how can it help us to improve our health and our life?


Meditation has its roots in ancient Eastern practices, such as Buddhism, a tradition that goes back more than 2500 years.

Although many people associate it with a religious practice, meditation is a secular practice: you don’t need to believe anything or adhere to any doctrine to practice it.

In its essence, meditation is the study of the mind and its contents, and the quality of the mind that is cultivated through its practice is known as mindfulness.

Mindfulness is not something mystical. It is a state in which attention is paid to the contents of consciousness – thoughts, sensations, emotions – without judging them, whether they are pleasant or not.

It is to be aware of whatever appears in the mind, without clinging to pleasurable experiences or repelling unpleasant ones. It’s not about having some kind of specific experience, but about observing your experience more clearly. For example, if you have pain, the goal of mindfulness is not to eliminate it, but to observe it, without making judgments about that sensation.

The concept of mindfulness is simple, although in practice it is not easy.

Why develop this state of mind?

Because all our experiences are shaped by our mind, and the attention we pay to the present moment largely determines the quality of our experiences. Cultivating the state of mindfulness has the potential not only to improve our health, but all aspects of our lives.


Developing the state of mindfulness through meditation improves many components of physical and mental health:

  • Improves blood pressure, immune function and cortisol levels (study, study, study, study).
  • Reduces anxiety, depression, anguish, stress, neuroticism and negative thoughts (review, study, study).
  • Improves cognitive function, for example by increasing concentration and working memory (study, study, study).
  • Increases the expression of genes related to energy metabolism, mitochondrial function and telomere maintenance (study, study), and reduces the expression of genes linked to inflammatory responses (study).
  • Improves sleep quality (study).
  • Helps to recover from training (study, study).

It is also an excellent resource for dealing with pain, acute or chronic. Both novice and expert meditators experience reductions in the intensity and degree of discomfort of pain. In other words, they feel less pain, and the fact of feeling it, regardless of its intensity, does not affect them as much compared to people who do not practice meditation (study, study, review).

Because meditation leads to better regulation of one’s behavior and self-awareness, its practice has the potential to treat addictions and eating disorders (study, review, review).

Not surprisingly, the development of mindfulness is associated with an increase in well-being and life satisfaction (review).

And these benefits were proven in novices, you don’t have to become an expert for meditation to help you.

Many benefits of meditation seem to be mediated by morphological and activation changes in the brain. For example:

  • Practicing meditation increased basal activity on the left side of the prefrontal cortex, a pattern that is associated with positive emotions (study).
  • It reduces the volume of the basolateral right amygdala, changes that are related to less stress (study).
  • It is associated with increased thickness and density of gray matter in areas of the brain related to attention, learning, memory, and emotional regulation (study, study, article).

In short, meditating shapes your brain in a similar way to how exercise shapes your muscles.

Finally, meditation helps us reduce the usual psychological sufferings: lamenting the past, worrying about the future, clinging to impermanent pleasurable experiences, criticizing each other, feeling fear, anger, guilt… Reducing these kinds of internal conflicts tends to improve the relationship we have with ourselves and others.


For beginners, vipassana meditation (from the pali which means “to see things as they really are”) is usually recommended.

I recommend starting with guided meditations. Instead of sitting alone to meditate, it’s better to have a teacher to guide you through your first few months of practice, tell you what to focus on, and remind you to pay attention every time your mind wanders.

As you can imagine, there are apps for that:

  • 10% Happier (my favorite).
  • Headspace.
  • Bamboo (in Spanish).

Another recommendation is to meditate first thing in the morning, right after getting up. On the one hand, it increases the likelihood that you will do so. On the other hand, meditating in the morning usually improves the rest of the day: greater concentration, productivity and a more pleasant day in general.

As with exercise, starting to meditate is a gradual process: 5 minutes a day is a good starting point. Consistency is more important than duration.

The apps are useful to guide you through the practice as such, but reading about the subject will give you greater understanding and surely motivation. I recommend the following books:

  • Dan Harris’s 10% happier: a good introduction to the subject with a personal and enjoyable approach, for skeptics.
  • Bhante Henepola Gunaratana’s mindfulness book: clear instructions on why and how to meditate.
  • Awakening, by Sam Harris: a more demanding reading, with a more scientific approach.

Meditation is like any other skill. It requires time and practice to experience its benefits. At first it is not easy to distinguish between mindfulness and being lost in your thoughts.

To explain the state of mindfulness, Joseph Goldstein, one of the most renowned Western meditation masters, compares it to being completely immersed in a movie and suddenly realizing that you are in a movie theater seeing a representation of lights on a wall. Sam Harris reiterates: “Most of us spend every lost moment in the film of our lives. Meditation helps us break this “spell.