Inner Leadership recommends meditation as one of three ways to deepen your connection with yourself and so increase your ability to remain calm, centred, and grounded at all times. Now a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School has found out why this works.
In her initial studies, neuroscientist Sara Lazar found that people who had been meditating for several years had enhanced sensory perception. “[This] makes sense,” she said. “When you’re mindful, you’re paying attention to your breathing, to sounds, to the present moment experience, and shutting cognition down. It stands to reason your senses would be enhanced.”
But when she then examined the physical brains of meditators, Sara also found that they had:
“more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision making.”
She realised this might have been because those people already had bigger brains before they started meditating. So Sara then measured the brains of a group of people who had never meditated. Then she measured them again after just eight weeks of a mindfulness-based stress reduction programme.
What she found was significant, not just in terms of mental capacity but in the physical size of the brain. She and her team found:
- A thickening of the area of the brain involved in self-definition and self-esteem
- A thickening of the part of the brain that assists in learning, cognition, memory, and management of emotions
- A thickening of the part of the brain involved with keeping perspective, empathy, compassion, and interpersonal exchange
- A thickening of the area that produces the neurotransmitters that drive agitation versus amiability, enabling us to function with greater peace and confidence
- A shrinking of the part of the brain that worries about our fight or flight decisions
These students were meditating for an average of just under 30 minutes each day. Some even said they got benefits from meditating for just ten minutes per day.
A daily practice of meditation reduces stress and increases our ability to focus and take decisions. It improves our memory, learning, confidence, and interpersonal exchange. It improves our ability to get things done.
No wonder Gandhi said, “I meditate every morning for an hour. And when my workload is especially high, I get up an hour earlier and I meditate for two hours.”
How strong is your self-esteem, learning, memory, and ability to manage your emotions currently? How strongly are you able to maintain perspective and empathy? Would you like to improve any of that?