7 Ways Meditation Builds Your Brain
Meditation delivers better health, emotional resiliency and brain power. All you have to do is… to do it a bit each day. The science is clear – -meditation builds a better you. Here are seven benefits of meditation.
MY BUDDY, Steve, is a peripatetic searcher for knowledge, particularly self-knowledge. He has boundless energy, few preconceptions that he’s unwilling to challenge, punches through fears, and over the last few years has done what the cartoonist Stine made popular with his greeting cards — Steve is willing to “look in to find out.”
We’re talking live-in workshop retreats and various deep dive psychotherapies. And now, Steve has added meditation to the list. He recently learned Transcendental Meditation, and now sits daily and relaxes into the vibe.
“It’s making a difference”, Steve announced to me at our café hangout last weekend. I looked up from the section of Sunday’s New York Times that he gave me to give him an inquiring look. I said nothing but wondered how he could pin point the benefits of meditation given all the other modalities in which he’s immersed.
He punctuated the pause with a smirk, and we both returned to our respective reads. It doesn’t matter that we didn’t dive into how meditation is affecting Steve, for we both know.
I’ve been an on and off meditator for 30 years. It’s value is obvious to me. And now with all the gadgets available to measure brain activity, scientists are learning just what’s going on. Here are some…
Seven Benefits of Meditation
1. A more plastic brain. This is a strange term, but it’s nearly literal because consistent meditation leads to what’s referred to as neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to respond to certain inputs by changing itself structurally and functionally. Now, there are even methods presented online that studies show can improve your brains, such as the games developed by Lumosity. That the brain is actually “plastic” – can change – is a big deal, as scientists formerly believed that the brain essentially stopped changing after adulthood.
2. A thicker brain. Get a thicker brain in just 40 minutes a day! A 2005 study on American men and women who meditated a mere 40 minutes a day showed that they had thicker cortical walls than non-meditators. Thicker biceps, yes, but why would you want a thicker brain? Well, a thicker brain results in a brain that’s aging at a slower rate, better decision making, attention and memory. Thick brains are better than thick biceps after all.
3. A more alert brain. In a 2006 study, college students were asked to either sleep, meditate or watch TV. They were then tested on their alertness by being asked to hit a button every time a light flashed on a screen. By a significant 10%, the meditators did better than the nappers and TV watchers .
4. A more relaxed brain. Do you have high blood pressure? In 2008, Dr. Randy Zusman, a doctor at the Massachusetts General Hospital, asked patients suffering from high blood pressure, but not on medication, to try a meditation-based relaxation program for three months. After meditating regularly for three months, 40 of the 60 patients showed significant drops in blood pressure levels . The reason? Relaxation results in the formation of nitric oxide which opens up your blood vessels.
5. A longer-lived brain. Telomeres — the protective caps at the end of our chromosomes — are the new frontier of anti-aging science. (Watch Nobel prize winner Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn tell you about telomeres in Three Months to Longer Life. ) Having longer telomeres mean that you’re likely to live longer. Research done by the University of California, Davis’ Shamatha Project has shown that meditators have significantly higher telomerase activity that non-meditators. Telomerase is the enzyme that helps build telomeres. When telomerase activity shifts into high gear, it can translate into stronger and longer telomeres .
6. A more resilient brain. Meaning, a better immune system. A 2008 study on HIV positive patients found that, after an eight-week meditation course, patients who’d meditated showed no decline in lymphocyte content compared with non-meditators who showed significant reduction in lymphocytes. Lymphocytes or white blood cells are the “brain” of the body’s immune system, and are particularly important for HIV positive people. The study also found that lymphocyte levels actually went up with each meditation session.
7. A pain-free brain. Well, the brain itself doesn’t actually feel pain, but it does command how you feel it. Earlier this year, a study conducted by Wake Forest Baptist University found that meditation could reduce pain intensity by 40 percent and pain unpleasantness by 57 percent. Pretty impressive given that morphine and other pain-relieving drugs typically show a pain reduction of only 25 percent.
There’s some more information for each of these seven at the original article that inspired this summary, so if interested, go take a read here.