Inner Leadership recommends meditation as one of three ways that we can deepen our connection with ourselves and so increase our ability to remain calm, centred, and grounded at all times. Now a neuroscientist based at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School has found physical evidence for why this happens.
Neuroscientist Sara Lazar quickly discovered 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 measured the actual physical brains of meditators she was amazed to discover they had:
“more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision making.”
Of course, this might just be because those people already had bigger brains before they started meditating.
So next she measured the brains of a group of people who had never meditated, before and after they followed a mindfulness-based stress reduction programme.
After just eight weeks, Sara and her team found significant changes not just in mental capacity but also in the physical size of people’s brains:
- 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 determine agitation versus amiability, and which then enables us to function with greater peace and confidence
- A shrinking of the part of the brain that worries about our fight or flight decisions
The students she studied were meditating for an average of only around 30 minutes per day. Some said they got benefits from meditating even 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.
Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, starts each day with 30 minutes of meditation.
Mahatma Gandhi brought down an empire. No wonder he 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.”
Would you like to increase your self-esteem, learning, memory, empathy, sense of perspective, or your ability to manage your emotions? Would you be willing to meditate for 10-30 minutes a day and see what happens?
Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.
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