By Colleen Nelson
Meditation has been around for thousands of years, practiced by many different cultures, for many different reasons. Granola hippies will tell you about the enlightenment benefits; greater personal awareness, heightened sense of purpose, unity with the world around you. This may all be true, but are there other measurable benefits? Turns out this ancient practice actually can transform your brain.
So easy a caveman could do it
First of all, what is meditation? It can be as simple as sitting quietly and focusing on breath, or involve complex mantras or mudras. To reap the benefits of brain-altering meditation, you simply need to quiet your mind for at least 20 minutes a day.
Grey is the new black
Studies have shown that a regular meditation practice can increase the amount of grey matter in your noggin. A part of the central nervous system, grey matter helps with muscle control, sensory perception, and self-control. To be a fully functioning human being, grey matter is essential, and the more the better.
The fountain of youth
Doing just 40 minutes of mindful meditation every day means a thicker cortical wall. In English, that means your brain will age at a slower rate. If that wasn’t enough for you, thicker walls mean better memory, attention, and decision making. It’s even been shown to ward off Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Here’s another reason to do some deep breathing: studies have also shown that meditation lowers cortisol levels which in turn reduces stress. For those that don’t know, cortisol is known to have brain cell-killing properties to the hippocampus, or memory center. By reducing the levels of the cortisol hormone, you’re saving your memory and even in some cases reversing memory loss.
My, what a big brain you have
Regular meditators have been shown to have larger brains than non-meditators. We already know that a few “oms” a day means more grey matter and a thicker cortex, but what about increased size of other areas? For musician who meditate, the studies show that the music processing areas of their brains were larger. For jugglers tested, their visual and motor areas were larger. They can thank good ole’ brain blood flow for that.
Is your mind blown yet?
This all seems too good to be true, but the studies all point to the same conclusion; meditation is the cheapest medicine out there. By just sitting quietly, focusing on your breath, and committing as little as 20 minutes a day to a meditation practice, you can literally change your brain. That’s some powerful stuff right there! Wanna begin to reap the benefits but don’t know where to start? Here’s how:
1) Sit or lie in a comfortable, quiet position
2) Set a stopwatch for 20 minutes
3) Turn off your cell phone and other potential distractions
4) Close your eyes
5) Focus on your natural breath
6) When a stray thought comes up, push it aside and return to your inhale and exhale
Namaste, and happy meditating!
Colleen is a Journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin. Originally from Boulder, Colo., she is a yoga-doing, chai-loving, adventure-seeker at heart. If she’s not taking a jog around Austin’s nature trails, you can probably find her enjoying the live music scene. Some of her wardrobe is bohemian chic, and some is southern sorority worthy—Lilly Pulitzer, seersucker, and a LBD with her grandma’s pearls. The rest of her closet looks like she lives on a ranch—tattered blue jeans, plaid button-ups, and cowboy boots probably still with some dirt on them from last weekend.