Indeed, climbing mountains and becoming a Tibetan monk is a far-fetched way to go about it, but meditation is worth the effort. And it’s so easily done at home that many doctors now hand out “prescriptions” for it.
Mediation and mindfulness have proven their value so well that many hospitals run classes in it, too.
Doctors first turned to it for help with pain and stress. It’s been proven to help with conditions ranging from migraines to irritable bowel syndrome. And now we know that mindfulness-based meditation may also keep your brain younger, sharper and more alert.
That’s because meditation enhances your brain’s ability to self-regulate. Images taken of the brains of people after a few weeks of practice showed that they gained more connections in the areas related to “executive function.”
Those parts of the brain help us focus, plan, follow instructions, control impulses and balance tasks. When elderly people cannot handle activities of daily living, it’s the breakdown in this function that is at fault.
Mindfulness meditation slows down the age-related decline of your cognition and even helps increase your cognitive ability and your ability to pay attention.
Meditation and Your Brain
One clear case of this comes from the Buddhist monk Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. Scans of hisbrain showed that his brain aged slower than his calendar age and the brains of the 105 other non-meditating subjects. When he was 41, Ripnoche’s brain resembles that of a 33-year-old, an 8-year decline in brain aging.
Rinpoche could be a special case, but there’s good evidence that anyone can get a brain boost with meditation.
In a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, 16 people who had not previously meditated were enrolled in the practice. For comparison, another group of 17 participants were also followed, but did not learn to meditate.
For eight weeks, the first group spent on average 27 minutes daily doing formal homework exercises such as body scans practice, yoga, and meditation sitting. After eight weeks, they had increased their mindfulness and became more aware, observant, and non-judging than the second group.
In addition to the behavior changes, there were measurable improvements in their brain structure. The brain tissue concentration increased in the areas of their brains that were involved in learning, memory processes, emotion, self-referential processing, and perspective.
Adapting the Buddhist Way of Life: Or Just Try It
Stress, fatigue, and burnout are not uncommon for us these days. And no matter what other measures you take, if your mind is not attuned to your body, your brain function will suffer.
Doctors suggest that taking a short time each day to relax and meditate will enhance your healing and optimize your brain and body performance. This can be easy. You won’t be an expert at first, but it does not matter. It’s the practice that matters.
Start at five minutes twice a day doing these practices. You can increase gradually until you can are comfortable doing twenty minutes twice daily. Even if you don’t make that much time every day, setting aside some time regularly will benefit you. But you will probably feel so much better, you will look forward to your practice.
Find or Make a Good Spot. Setting up a pleasant and comfortable space will create a special feeling. That makes it easier to achieve the meditative state. You can gather items or props that help you focus and liven the ambiance like candles, flowers, incense, photos, crystals, etc.
Sit Comfortably. On a chair or the floor, it doesn’t matter. Settle in and sit with your back straight and close your eyes or focus on an unmoving object.
Focus. Start breathing in and out slowly, deeply, and gently. Keep your mind inward or on the object, such as a candle, flowers, or small statue that you’re focusing on. Pay attention to that and nothing else. Now, it is not uncommon for your mind to wander someplace else. When it happens, stay relaxed… it’s not a failure. Just mindfully steer it back to focus. You may need to do this several times a minute at first. It’s fine. You will get better, but meanwhile, your brain is already reaping benefits.
Chant If You Wish. Some use “Shanti,” a Sanskrit word for peace, as they meditate. However, you can use a word from your own tradition to help drown out your thoughts.