Learning how to control your mind through observation, or, in other words, meditation, is being proven in study after study to have a positive impact on your brain, as well as your physical health and appearance. As more research is being done, some interesting findings are being brought to attention, specifically about consistency and regularity of an individual’s meditation practice.
The question being asked is: Does having a long-term meditation practice have more benefits?
According to a team of researchers at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, there are some changes that can happen to your brain relatively quickly by practicing meditation. Some, on the other hand, require much more dedication to achieve. In the study, the brain activity of non-meditators, new meditators, and long-term meditators (designated so by having clocked thousands of hours of experience) was measured.
The findings, according to Richard Davidson, William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at UW–Madison, “show that alterations in key brain circuits associated with emotion regulation can be produced by mindfulness meditation”.
While long-term meditators and new meditators shared some similarities as far as brain benefits, the research demonstrated that the more experienced individuals were able to reduce the activity that takes place in the amygdalae when seeing negative images. This means that, while even some exposure to meditation can lead to positive effects for your brain, in order to get the most out of it you need to commit to a regular practice - and starting as young as possible.
Through the hours and hours of practice, meditation gives you the ability to “decrease the extent to which emotional stimuli hijack us”. One of the main reasons why this is so important is that it helps you age more slowly - and in better health.
For thousands of years, meditation has been believed to help slow the aging process. Today, science is backing that belief up with the correlation between regular meditation and a dramatic reduction in stress - one of our top aging offenders.
In one fascinating study, intensive meditation was shown to increase the production of telomeres, which are the “protein caps on the end of each chromosome in your body”. As your body ages and your cells divide, chromosomes replicate and your telomeres are shortened. Once your telomeres have become too short, then the cells in your body can no longer replicate, which means that your body ages more quickly and that you become more prone to diseases.
Meditation’s ability, then, to rebuild and lengthen telomeres after cell division could be one of the reasons why meditation helps you and your brain stay healthy even as you age.
And, the good news is that according to this study, even just 15 minutes of meditation each day can influence the production of telomeres in your body because the more relaxed you are, the more your body is able to produce telomeres. A study that focused on Zen meditators in particular noted that their telomeres were an impressive 10% longer than others of similar age and lifestyle but with zero meditation experience.
Another impressive study?
According to Sara Lazar, a PHD and Assistant Professor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School, meditation positively impacts various cognitive and behavioral functions. The results from her team’s research “suggest that meditation can produce experience-based structural alterations in the brain.” Lazar goes on to say that there is “evidence that meditation may slow down the age related atrophy of certain areas of the brain,” which means there’s no better time to start your meditation practice than right now.
AnJenette Afridi, MA, YACEP, ERYT-500, is a Wellbeing Expert, Speaker, Author, and Advocate with more than three decades of expertise in Meditation and Mindful-Based Programs for Optimal Wellbeing. She holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology (MA), Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Provider (YACEP), and Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (ERYT-500).
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This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical issue or disease. The author does not in any way guarantee or warrant the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of this article and will not be held responsible for the content of this article. The information in this article is not intended to replace a personal relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Always consult your personal health care provider for specific medical advice.