Practicing “Mindfulness” Can Teach Us to Pay Attention
You don’t have to be a yogi to know that meditation is more than just sitting like a pretzel and chanting. Now scientists are finding that practicing meditation not only affects our psychological life: it physically alters the structure of the brain.
The findings support the growing hypothesis in the scientific community: that the brain is a far more pliable system than believed even a decade ago. In fact, the choices we make in the way we think and act affect the health and growth of our body’s most vital organ.
The study on brain growth, completed at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, had participants doing 30 minutes of “mindfulness meditation” for eight weeks.
The study participants were given MRI to measure changes in the grey matter growth during the study. Increased grey matter was found in the area of the brain the controls learning and memory with decreased grey matter in the brain where stress is controlled. The control group showed no changes in growth in these areas.
Adding meditation practice to your retirement plans might just lengthen your life and make you more healthy. In 2009, a study found that people who meditate may have lower blood pressure, a leading factor in heart disease Another study found links between meditation and ability to “pay attention” – a critical skill in a world where we are being exhausted by sensory inputs.
Meditation – along with its fraternal twin, yoga — has blossomed in Western culture in the last four decades and is now a fairly common practice in the United States.
Meditation is often connected to Eastern religions such as Buddhism or Hinduism, but the practice of meditation is not a religious act. It is the practice of quieting the body and the mind from the many external stimuli, moving through concentration to a place of “unbroken attention.”
Those who meditate often say the goal is to achieve the same kind of “mindfulness” in their conscious lives as they do in their meditation practice.