Meditation is an activity that is gaining a good deal of attention. It has migrated from a fringe exercise associated with New Age spiritualism to a more mainstream phenomenon practiced by a broad range of people in business and industry.
And there are good reasons for its increasing popularity. Research has shown that it helps to lower stress, fight depression and anxiety, reduces pain and insomnia.
Meditation and the Brain
But now research is showing something else – meditation can actually increase a person’s cognitive abilities. In one study, scientists compared people who meditated for a long time with those who did not. They found that those who meditated had more gray matter in several parts of the brain, areas that included the auditory and sensory cortex and other sensory regions of the brain.
This is because those who meditate slow things down and attempt to increase their awareness of the moment and their physical sensations like breathing and sounds in their environment.
But the scientists also found that the people who meditate have more gray matter in the frontal cortex of the brain, the region responsible for decision-making and memory. The frontal cortex normally shrinks as people age, but people who meditate have cortexes with an amount of gray matter similar to those half their age.
In another study, scientists took a group of people with no experience meditating and had them undergo a meditation program for eight weeks. Even in this short time they found that meditation improved brain function. There was a thickening of several areas in the brain, including the hippocampus, which is one of the areas responsible for learning, memory and emotional regulation. Other areas affected include the temporoparietal junction, which manages empathy and the ability to take various perspectives, and the pons, an area in the brainstem where neurotransmitters are located.
How Long to Meditate
The studies also showed that you don’t need to invest a lot of time either to see the benefits of meditation. People have noticed considerable improvement with as little as 15 to 20 minutes a day of meditating. Even just a few minutes a day can be beneficial, according to researchers.
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