Meditation is great to prescribe to friends and family, however its effectiveness is hard to prove. I mean, how long should you meditate to get results? (Usually you’ll get an annoying answer like, “As long as it takes,” or “You’ll know.” Uhmm, yeah ok…) Well, lucky for us, science is stepping up and tackling the issue once and for all. There has been research done on people who meditate to see if this practice actually produces any results and isn’t just hokey talk from the spiritual community. Which is great news for all of us.
Reduced Anxiety and Social Anxiety
Anxiety and Social Anxiety are conditions that aren’t quite looked upon as ‘serious’ but can be debilitating to people who suffer from them. Mostly because someone suffering from anxiety might just be labelled as someone who ‘frets’ a lot and is ‘worrying over nothing’. Understandably this could be why many suffer in silence. Thanks to research done at the University of Massachusetts’ Center for Mindfulness, we now can confirm that with as little as 8-weeks of meditation your anxiety levels can be reduced (and stress levels amongst other things) for years after.
Improved concentration and attention
A study published in Psychological Science found that just a couple of weeks of meditation was enough to improve people’s focus and memory. A strong focus on most meditation is concentration (on breath, body, object, activity, etc) so it’s not surprising that continued meditation helps one’s cognitive skills. Lack of concentration and attention does not only affect kids with ADD or ADHD, but many adults complain of the inability to focus. Good news is that with a little practiced meditation you could be well on your way to getting more centred.
Reduced ‘Monkey-Mind’ activity
Ah yes, that incessant chatter in your mind. It never stops. Sometimes it can be so distracting that you might have trouble falling asleep or focussing. A study carried out a few years ago at Yale University found that mindfulness can decrease activity in the default mode network (DMN) or the ‘monkey mind’ - the part of the brain responsible for mind-wandering thoughts. A key component in mindfulness is not to shut down all thoughts but rather to notice the mind as it wanders, and without judgement bring in back to the present. Initially, it may be difficult to notice when the mind has wandered, but as practitioners get more skilled at this, they can snap out of it quicker.
Not only does meditation change the brain, it also helps to preserve it better. Just this January a study by UCLA found that long-term meditators had better preserved brains than non-meditators. Although older meditators still had some volume loss when compared to younger meditators, it wasn’t as pronounced as non-meditators.
Actual brain structural changes
A study by Harvard (which has been making its rounds on the internet) has found that with meditation, the actual structure of the brain changes. After eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) the cortical thickness of the hippocampus was found to have increased. The hippocampus governs learning and memory. There was also a decrease in the brain cell volume in the amygdala - the area responsible for fear, anxiety and stress.
It’s easy to see why many people choose to start meditating. However, I know the challenge lies not in the intention to meditate but in actually starting and keeping at it. But based on all the good it could bring into your life, the question I often ask my well-intentioned friends is, “Aren’t you worth the 10 minutes it takes to meditate?”
Photo source: "Meditation 3" by Nickolai Kashirin on Flickr.