When we think of brain health, few of us consider meditation, yet meditation can be surprisingly effective to boost brain health. That’s because this simple act is effective for reducing stress and the resulting stress hormones that can have a negative impact on your brain.
Research published in the journal Psychiatry Research found that meditation improves blood flow to the brain and that these changes last long after the meditation is over. Scientists at the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at UCLA studied the effects of meditation on the “stress” circuits of the brain. Ten experienced meditators performed two types of meditation: a focus-based meditative technique and a breath-based practice. The meditators’ brains were scanned using MRI technology before starting, during the meditation practices and following meditation.
Researchers found that four regions of the brain were affected during meditation and that the two types of meditation states cause different patterns of blood flow to the brain; however, both techniques improved blood flow to the brain. Some of the brain changes continued even after meditation stopped.
While research in this area is still in its infancy, the positive impact of meditation on blood flow to the brain may have applications in treating brain disorders or stroke and in keeping your brain healthy for the long-term.
Meditation has also been linked to mood improvements, pain threshold increases, increases in immune system activity and improved bronchial and arterial muscle tone. Other research at the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Healthy Minds found that meditation can improve attention in children. While the studies show a wide variety of health improvements linked to meditation, they consistently show a reduction in stress hormones and a reversal in the effects of chronic stress.
While many people associate meditation with religion, it’s actually a simple technique that transcends religious beliefs. It is a mental vacation from the stresses of daily life whereby you center your mind and create a sense of peacefulness. The rewards are worth the minimal effort
Meditation is easy to learn, requires no expensive equipment and can be done almost anywhere. All you need is commitment and a small amount of time. While participants in the study practiced for one hour a day, even a few minutes daily will be helpful.
There are many different types of meditation. Don’t get bogged down in finding the ideal one for you; that sort of quest is often just an excuse for procrastinating anyway. There are a million or more reason for not meditating, starting with “I don’t have time” or “I’m too tired,” but they are all simply excuses for not making your health a priority. No one has the time. How you spend your time is up to you.
Here is a simple, yet effective, meditation exercise. You can play peaceful background music while performing this meditation or you can have silence—whichever you prefer.
1. Sit in a comfortable position where you will not be disturbed. Close your eyes. Keep your head upright and shoulders relaxed.
2. Begin by breathing deeply and steadily. Do not force your breathing. Simply breathe as deeply as you comfortably can. Observe your breath.
3. Begin to allow your breath to expand your abdomen. Comfortably expand your abdomen with each inhalation, and then release your abdomen with every exhalation.
4. Continue breathing deeply for at least 10 minutes. The longer you can meditate, the better.
Meditation gets easier with practice. Take some time each day to meditate and your brain and your body will thank you.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the publisher of the free e-newsletter World’s Healthiest News, president of PureFood BC, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: Boost Your Brain Power in 60 Seconds: The 4-Week Plan for a Sharper Mind, Better Memory, and Healthier Brain.