The desire to improve your health and life is a never-ending one—unless you’re a masochist. Long to-do lists are staples of the A-type personality that tend to become part of many adults’ lives. More often than not, these attempts at improvement go unresolved because people are imperfect creatures of habit. It’s important to think basically when it comes to improvement, but most important of all: you simply need to think, or rather, meditate. Meditation, a practice that is thousands of years old and was once used to try to connect with the answers of the universe, is a modern-day powerhouse. Meditation has garnered a lot of scientific interest, and research is saying there is good news, so much so that meditation should become a larger part of people’s daily routine.
Meditation has not had an easy time being taken seriously until recently. The once-considered happy-go-lucky pastime is now coming into a brighter light. Different studies have been surfacing that are increasingly coming to the aid of meditation’s reputation. The Laboratory of Neuro Imaging of UCLA concluded that there was greater gyrification, the folding of the cortex, in those who have been practicing meditation long term. Greater gyrification suggests the brain may process information faster. And even more concretely, the level of gyrification was directly correlated to the amount of years one has practiced meditation. This then leads to possible proof that meditation boosts the brain’s neuroplasticity, increasing its ability to adapt to environmental changes. The cerebral cortex plays a key role in memory, attention, thought processes, and consciousness. Through gyrification, the brain creates new folds, which suggests it improves the quality of those everyday processes. Though there is some possibility that the results could be slightly affected by genetics and environmental circumstances, the results still remain both impressive and compelling, especially in the link between length of practice and improved brain responses.
Even on a short-term scale, research brings significant findings. A separate study in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging (2011) was performed with 16 meditators who practiced meditation 30 minutes a day for 8 weeks. These participants were found to have a considerable shift in the density of gray matter, the parts of the brain that are related to memory, empathy, and stress. This study was specifically seeking to address the neural mechanics of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, a widely popular mindfulness program. In MRI scans, researchers found improvements across different regions of the brain that are actively a part of learning and memory, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective.
Both findings are pretty incredible for something as simple as concentrated thinking. The question then becomes: why isn’t everybody doing this every day? That’s likely due to the fact that a lot of people don’t know how or feel they don’t have enough time. But as proven, you only need 30 minutes a day and the commitment to do it. To begin simple meditation, it’s better to be in a seated position than prone, as there’s a tendency to fall asleep when your body relaxes in a prone position. You don’t have to sit in a stereotypical meditation pose if you don’t choose to; as long as you keep your back straight, you’re in a proper position. It’s preferable to be in a quiet place, although, with practice, meditation can make any place quiet. Once you’re comfortable, clear your mind and focus on a single thought or object in the room. It may be difficult to keep your attention on meditating, but the more you practice, the better you’ll become at keeping your focus. Meditation can exist in different forms, such as qi gong, tai chi, and yoga, which may work better for those who prefer to be a little more active. Different forms of meditation include mindfulness, mantra, transcendental, and guided. Guided meditation is a great starting point for people just beginning.
Meditation is thousands of years old. It was originally intended to access the mystical forces of life. However, with today’s research, we understand why it’s still a part of human society. It’s especially valuable for anyone who has medical issues that are affected by stress. Research suggests that meditation can even positively affect those suffering from allergies, asthma, cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep disorders, and substance abuse. This makes meditation an incredibly powerful and free resource to better help your mental and physical health, prompting the question: can anyone afford not to do this?
- Bhanoo SN. How meditation may change the brain. January 28, 2011. New York Times. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/28/how-meditation-may-change-the-brain/.
- Evidence builds that meditation strengthens the brain. Science Daily Web site. March 14, 2012. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120314170647.htm.
- Hanc J. In Sitting Still, a Bench Press for the Brain. New York Times. May 9, 2012.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/10/business/retirementspecial/meditation-as-brain-builder-gains-scientific-support.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.
- Hölzel BK, Carmody J, Vangel M et al. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Res Neuroimmaging. 2011;191(1):36-43.http://www.psyn-journal.com/article/PIIS092549271000288X/abstract.
- Pettinger T. 4 Powerful reasons to meditate and how to get started. Pick the Brain Web site. http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/4-reasons-you-should-meditate-and-how-to-get-started/.