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Science Shows Meditation Can Keep the Brain Young (and Guide for Beginnners)

Science Shows Meditation Can Keep the Brain Young (and Guide for Beginnners)

Plenty of scientific studies have shown that physical exercise is a powerful tool to slow down the effects of aging. Among other benefits, regular exercise helps us maintain our strength, endurance, and flexibility as we age.

Now it turns out that there’s an easy way to slow down the aging in our brains! An exciting new study from Harvard University shows that a simple practice, if done regularly, can prevent aging in the brain. The tool? Meditation. We’ve all heard that it produces feelings of relaxation and peace, and is good for stress reduction. Now, for the first time, scientists have actual proof that meditation can actually reverse the aging process in the brain. Using sophisticated medical technology, Harvard researchers have shown that meditation produces measurable changes in crucial parts of the brain that control emotion, memory, and learning.

The Study

In the 8-week study, Harvard researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to compare the brains of two groups. One group practiced mindfulness meditation exercises for 27 minutes per day during the 8-week period, and the other group did not meditate during the study. Both groups also filled out questionnaires before and after the study that measured participants’ levels of stress and anxiety. MRI scans of participant’s brain were taken both before and after the study. At the end of the study, the MRI images showed striking differences between the two groups in crucial areas of the brain that control emotion and thought.

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The Results

The researchers found that the hippocampus, which usually shrinks with age, was thicker in the meditators after the 8 weeks, and unchanged in the nonmeditators. The hippocampus controls memory, learning, self-awareness, and compassion; functions associated with mindfulness meditation.  The amygdala, which controls emotions such as stress and anxiety, showed a decrease in density in the meditators. The researchers associated this decrease with the reduction reported by the meditators, but not by the other group.

Benefits of Meditation in Daily Life

So, how would these brain changes brought about by meditation translate into real life? The meditators reported feeling less stress and anxiety than the control group. Meditation causes you to slow down repeatedly and to practice focusing on your breath (or a mantra or image, depending on what kind of meditation you are doing). This can build the habit of stopping before you react, instead of just reacting without thinking. Say an angry coworker approaches you with an angry comment, accusing you of making a mistake. If you aren’t prepared, your instincts would probably be to go on the defensive, and you might find yourself in an argument. If you stopped and took a breath before you began your conversation, however, you could approach the conversation in a way that would help your coworker to relax and to release his or her anger. If someone cuts you off on the highway, your habit of pausing to breathe before reacting might stop you from reacting with a loud honk or an angry gesture.   Feeling less angry and stressed can enhance your life and the lives of those around you, as well. In addition, your brain will remain active and retain the ability to learn and remember, functions that we tend to lose as we age.

How to Meditate

If you’ve never meditated, but would like to start, there are many resources available. If you’re interested in meditating with a group, just Google “meditation groups” and see what you can find near you. Many excellent books and tapes with meditation instructions and guided meditations are available on Amazon. Tara Brach and Pema Chodron are two widely popular teachers who have published books and tapes on meditation. There are many other wonderful teachers in addition to those two.

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A Meditation for Beginners

Here’s a very simple meditation you can do anywhere,  anytime – in your living room, your office, even your car.

1. Take a comfortable position: you can sit cross-legged on a cushion, or upright on a chair, whichever is most comfortable. Your spine should be upright but not stiff, shoulders relaxed. Keep your head up, as if lifted by a invisible string. Place your hands firmly on your thighs, palms down or upright, whichever feels more comfortable.

2. Direct your gaze a few feet in front of you. Hold a soft, steady gaze.

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3. As you breathe in and out, taking deep, natural breaths, keep your attention on your breath. When your mind wanders (and it will) gently bring your attention back to your breath. In the beginning your mind will be very busy and full of chatter; don’t worry! Just let your thoughts rise and fall and keep coming back to the breath.

4. Start with 10 minutes per day. Gradually increase your time as you feel more comfortable with the practice.

Again, if you want to go further, seek out some of the resources mentioned in this article.  As you go along, know that not only are you reducing your stress and anxiety, but you are keeping your brain young and healthy, too!

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Featured photo credit: Pray by belgian chocolate via imcreator.com

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Last Updated on August 4, 2020

8 Benefits of a Minimalist Lifestyle That Get You to Live With Less

8 Benefits of a Minimalist Lifestyle That Get You to Live With Less

Minimalism is a way to put a stop to the gluttony of the world around us. It’s the opposite of every advertisement we see plastered on the radio and TV. We live in a society that prides itself on the accumulation of stuff; we eat up consumerism, material possessions, clutter, debt, distractions and noise.

What we don’t seem to have is any meaning left in our world.

By adopting a minimalist lifestyle, you can throw out what you don’t need in order to focus on what you do need.

I know first hand how little we actually need to survive. I was fortunate enough to live in a van for four months while traveling throughout Australia. This experience taught me valuable lessons about what really matters and how little we really need all this stuff we surround ourselves with.

Less is more.

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Living a minimalist lifestyle is reducing.There are a few obvious benefits of minimalism such as less cleaning and stress, a more organized household and more money to be found, but there are also a few deep, life-changing benefits.

What we don’t usually realize is that when we reduce, we reduce a lot more than just stuff.

Consider just some of the benefits of living with fewer possessions:

1. Create Room for What’s Important

When we purge our junk drawers and closets we create space and peace. We lose that claustrophobic feeling and we can actually breathe again. Create the room to fill up our lives with meaning instead of stuff.

2. More Freedom

The accumulation of stuff is like an anchor, it ties us down. We are always terrified of losing all our ‘stuff’. Let it go and you will experience a freedom like never before: a freedom from greed, debt, obsession and overworking.

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3. Focus on Health and Hobbies

When you spend less time at Home Depot trying unsuccessfully to keep up with the Joneses, you create an opening to do the things you love, things that you never seem to have time for.

Everyone is always saying they don’t have enough time, but how many people really stop and look at what they are spending their time doing?

You could be enjoying a day with your kids, hitting up the gym, practicing yoga, reading a good book or traveling. Whatever it is that you love you could be doing, but instead you are stuck at Sears shopping for more stuff.

4. Less Focus on Material Possessions

All the stuff we surround ourselves with is merely a distraction, we are filling a void. Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy comfort. After the initial comfort is satisfied, that’s where our obsession with money should end.

We are bombarded by the media presenting promises of happiness through materialistic measures. It’s no wonder we struggle everyday. Resist those urges. It’s an empty path, it won’t make you happy.

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It’s hard not to get roped into the consumerism trap. I need constant reminders that it’s a false sense of happiness. I enjoy stuff, but I also recognize that I don’t need it.

5. More Peace of Mind

When we cling onto material possessions we create stress because we are always afraid of losing these things. By simplifying your life you can lose your attachment to these things and ultimately create a calm, peaceful mind.

The less things you have to worry about, the more peace you have, and it’s as simple as that.

6. More Happiness

When de-cluttering your life, happiness naturally comes because you gravitate towards the things that matter most. You see clearly the false promises in all the clutter, it’s like a broken shield against life’s true essence.

You will also find happiness in being more efficient, you will find concentration by having refocused your priorities, you will find joy by enjoying slowing down.

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7. Less Fear of Failure

When you look at Buddhist monks, they have no fear, and they have no fear because they don’t have anything to lose.

In whatever you wish to pursue doing you can excel, if you aren’t plagued with the fear of losing all your worldly possessions. Obviously you need to take the appropriate steps to put a roof over your head, but also know that you have little to fear except fear itself.

8. More Confidence

The entire minimalist lifestyle promotes individuality and self reliance. This will make you more confident in your pursuit of happiness.

What’s Next? Go Minimalism.

If you’re ready to start living a minimalist lifestyle, these articles can help you to kickstart:

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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