Meditation is the seventh of the eight steps of Yoga in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, a step called dhyāna in Sanskrit. Meditation refers to both the mental or spiritual state that may be attained by such practices, and also refers to the practice of that state.
Although you may think of Yoga as a series of poses, there is much more to it than just the asanas (the poses). Mediation is an important part of Yoga. But even without Yoga, mediation can help to keep your brain young.
As people age, their brain’s lose weight and volume. These changes may start to occur in people as early as their mid to late 20s. Previous research has shown people who meditate lose less brain mass over time than those who do not. In particular, research concluded people who meditated showed less of a decrease in their white brain matter.
White brain matter acts as a connector and insulator for gray brain matter. It carries nerve impulses between the functional parts of the brain. Gray brain matter houses the various neurological centers of the brain, which direct speech, motor skills, memory, etc.
Meditation is something practiced by more than 15 million Americans and many more people around the world. It has its roots in eastern culture, but has been whole-heartedly embraced in western societies.
Meditation has a wide variety of benefits, including:
- Improved sleep
- Inner peace and tranquility
- Reduction of chronic pain
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Reduced depression
- Boosts attention
- Improved immunity
- Helps with weight loss
- Boosts memory
- Improved heart health and lower blood pressure
- Improved wellbeing and allows for deeper relationships
Now it seems that meditation may also help to keep our brains young.
A team of researchers from UCLA wondered if meditation preserves the gray matter of people who meditate. The researchers found meditation to have a widespread effect on the entire brain – not just the specific regions of the brain associated with meditation.
The study compared people having years of meditation experience with those who had none. Those that did meditate had an average of 20 years of experience with meditation practice. The age range of the of the study participants included people in their mid-20s to their late 70s.
Nearly equal numbers of men and women participated in the study with 28 men and 22 women.
They found the meditators still experienced a decline in gray matter with age but less than non-meditators.
The researchers noted the positive outcome of the study but caution people reviewing the results; they were unable to establish a direct link to meditation and the preservation of gray matter.
Another UCLA study conducted in 2012, showed meditators to have more gyrification (folds in their brains), which may contribute to an ability process information faster than usual.
Meditation appears to allow practitioners to maintain both white and gray matter and form increased connections in the brain; it seems to keep the brain young.
Along with its positive effects on white and gray brain matter, meditation appears to have a positive effect on other body functions.
Anti-Aging Benefits Of Meditation
The youth preserving and renewing benefits of meditation include:
- Meditation increases DHEA, which facilitates the production of the hormones that maintain fat and mineral metabolism.
- An increase in Melatonin, which acts as antioxidant, supplies immune support, fights depression, and improves sleep.
- A decrease in cortisol, the stress hormone that encourages the body to retain dangerous belly fat associated with heart disease and diabetes.
The Effects Of Meditation
Part of feeling and maintaining a youthful mental outlook centers around the quality of one’s thinking patterns. Meditators learn to quiet mental chaos and build their ability to concentrate.
They experience greater clarity of thought and tend to react less and respond more to circumstances. In short, they maintain their ability to be highly adaptive and think quickly with the additional benefit of choosing their response to situations rather than reacting to them.
How To Meditate
Meditators typically meditate at least twice a day for twenty minutes per sitting. Most schools of thought recommend meditation to start the day and to close it. However, a person may meditate whenever they have time in their schedule to accommodate it.
Meditation is not an all or nothing proposition. It is also beneficial to meditate in shorter increments of time, sitting for 5, 10, or 15 minutes.
There are also several different methods of meditation, including:
- Primordial Sound Meditation
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
- Transcendental Meditation
- Yoga Meditation (Kundalini)
- Focused Attention Meditation
- Open Monitoring Meditation
- Vipassana Meditation
- Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta Meditation)
- Mantra Meditation (OM Meditation)
- Qigong (Chi kung)
A person new to meditation needs to be patient; it takes time to train the mind to focus and settle into a meditation practice. The first step is to decide which from of meditation you wish to practice, and then learn how to do it. If possible, obtain the services of an expert, and there are also many books, DVD’s and free information available online that can teach the exact steps of the particular method preferred.
When beginning, try to meditate at the same time every day. If this is not possible, you can still meditate at a different time.
Building a meditation practice is more important than when you do it. The benefits of a consistent meditation practice can develop in a few weeks with continued practice preserving your brain’s youthful dynamics for years to come.