A great many superheroes meditate – and many villains too. Off the top of my head: DareDevil, Raven, Iron Fist, Black Widow, Dr. Strange, Black Adam, and Dr. Doom. There are further examples outside of the superhero pantheon – the Jedi, Vader, Geralt of Rivia, Ryu and Ken – and plenty more.
Often, the hero’s meditation practice ties into their abilities somehow, such as Dr Strange travelling through time or entering his astral form. One day we’ll discuss techniques we can use to warp the very reality around us – but for now, let’s keep it grounded. Besides, many non-powered heroes meditate too, such as Black Widow. Why would they do this? What are the benefits? Is this something we should do too?
Hopefully the 6 reasons below will give some clear answers to these questions!
1) Meditation can help reduce stress
Stress is the body’s response to a threat. When we feel stress, it’s because the body has activated the sympathetic nervous system, aka the fight or flight system. Stress makes us more alert, and sends blood to the muscles – basically, it gets us ready for action. Now, stress isn’t always bad. In fact, there are many situations in which we need that high-performance state – and costumed vigilantism is certainly one of them.
However, if we’re stressed too often, or too intensely, it will take a toll on the body. People who are regularly stressed are more likely to have problems with headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, chest pain, poor digestion and difficulty sleeping. They are also at higher risk of other mental problems, such as depression and anxiety.
All of this applies equally whether your stress comes from fighting crime, pressure at work, or exams. So it’s essential that heroes and normal folk alike develop ways to destress – and meditation is one such way. According to a review of 45 studies published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research published in 2017, meditation was found to decrease the biological markers for stress, such as cortisol, blood pressure, and heart rate.
2) Meditation can help you deal with difficult situations
The downsides of the costumed profession can be pretty unpleasant, ranging from minor discomfort to outright torture (literally, in some cases). There’s a parallel to everyday life here too – we have many happy, carefree experiences in our lives, – and some not-so-great ones too.
How these bad times affect us, physically and emotionally, depends on how we react to them. We can take a mildly unpleasant situation and turn it into terrible one if we react to it in the wrong way. If you have an aching back, and you start thinking about how bad this pain is, how you can’t deal with it, how much you want it to go away… you might end up making the pain worse for yourself.
However, there is a way of reacting to negative experiences that reduces their intensity. It’s called “non-judgemental awareness,” and it’s a technique practised in some forms of meditation such as mindfulness, or Vipassana.
The gist of it is, you observe a sensation as it is – as a pure sensation. You don’t judge it, react to it, or resist it. You simply observe it. It takes practice to learn, but this technique, can help you to better deal with stressful, painful or unpleasant experiences.
3) Meditation increases your ability to focus
Heroes, by definition, face high stakes – sometimes incredibly high. There are times when the entire universe (or maybe just half of it) is at stake, and if they drop the ball for one moment, life may be lost on a scale hitherto undreamt of. So it’s crucial that they stay focused.
What actually is focus, though? It’s simply the ability to keep your mind on a particular thing, even in the face of other distracting things.
This is a highly useful skill even for us normal civilians. There are very few situations where increased focus will hurt you, and countless situations where more focus will help you.
Happily, focus is something you can develop with training, just like strength, stamina, or flexibility. And, surprise, surprise – meditation is one way you can do that.
In meditation you have an object of focus, perhaps the breath, bodily sensations, or the sounds in your environment. And your goal is to maintain your focus on this object. When your attention wanders, you bring it back to the object of focus. When it wanders again, you bring it back again. Each time you do this is like doing another rep at the gym. You are literally and directly training your focus.
4) Meditation can build your cognitive abilities
Although the research in this area is still in its early days, there’s growing evidence that meditation can improve a number of cognitive abilities. For example:
- Verbal fluency tests: In this test you have to come up with as many words as possible in a certain time (e.g., name as many animals as you can in a minute).
- Trail test: The numbers from 1-25 are scattered randomly on a screen, and you have to draw a trail connecting them in sequence. It’s a test of visual search skills and processing speed.
- Working memory: This is the ability to hold and manipulate information in your short-term memory. It’s crucial to problem solving, decision making, or any activity in which you need to think deeply.
- Learning: There is also evidence that focus aids learning. Which stands to reason – if you’re only half listening in a lecture, you won’t learn as if you gave it your full attention.
In his book “Tools of Titans,” Tim Ferriss interviewed over 200 people who are world-class in their field. He found that around 80% of them maintained a meditation routine. Perhaps these cognitive benefits partially explain why.
5) Meditation can help reduce anxiety
Anxiety generally arises from worry – at least to some extent. It’s totally possible to be in a great mood, and then make yourself anxious purely by worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet and might not happen.
Say you have a presentation tomorrow. Try imagining it going horribly wrong. Keep replaying images of your failure in your mind, over and over. Tell yourself you’re a failure, that you’re not ready for this, that you don’t want to do it. Naturally, you’ll start to feel anxious.
Sadly, this is something that we don’t need to try to do. We just do it naturally. We build things up in our head and make them much worse than they likely are. Whether you’re a hero on patrol, or just someone who wants to live a balanced life, it would be beneficial to stop your mind from getting into such negative loops. And – you guessed it – meditation can help with that.
As you learned earlier, in meditation you develop your focus – your ability to stop your mind wandering. Since a lot of anxiety and worry stems from negative thinking, meditation can help get you out of these negative thought spirals, by helping you move your mind away from them.
6) Meditation can build emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence, or “EI”, refers to the human ability to recognise and manage emotions, both in ourselves and in others. Research shows that EI is a key factor in positive life outcomes – whether that’s in our health, our careers, or our relationships.
So how could meditation help with this? Quite a few ways, it turns out. Here are some examples:
- Self awareness: It’s so easy to get lost in emotion. We can be swept away by anger, sadness, or fear without even knowing it. The first step out, is self-awareness – before you take back control, you have to recognise that you’ve lost it! Meditation helps, as it develops your awareness of your emotional states.
- Self regulation: As noted above in the section on stress, meditation can help us regain our emotional balance when we get knocked off kilter.
- Empathy: To deal with people effectively, you have to imagine life from their point of view – what do they feel? What do they need? What do they want? This ability is known as empathy. Some people are both empathetic. For others, it takes practice. Some forms of meditation can help develop empathy, such as “metta” or “loving kindness” meditation.
Want to give it a try?
Ultimately, meditation is mental training. Being a superhero is not purely an athletic pursuit – heroes also need to control their emotions, maintain focus, and keep their minds sharp. But of course, everyone could benefit from these things, whether they wear a cape or not.
With that said, meditation isn’t for everyone, and it’s not a magic bullet that will solve all your problems. But, given the wide range of benefits it brings, it gives a pretty decent bang for your buck in terms of the return on the time investment. If you’re interested, I’ve embedded some YouTube videos with guided meditations into this post to get you started. Pick one and have a go! (if you can’t see them, it’s because you’ve opted out of marketing cookies).
If I still haven’t convinced you to at least give meditation a try, I just have one more argument left to make:
Batman does it.