Article by James Schreiber
Results of ongoing research shed new light on the mechanisms of meditation. Recent studies now confirm that you don’t have to be a monk to enjoy deep relaxation, increased attention span, better cognition and other health benefits meditation is offering.
Until recently, it was believed that one has to spend many years training in meditation in order to see any real and lasting improvements in health. However, both everyday experience and psychology research are now starting to agree that our mind may be easier to cognitively train than we previously thought. In fact, just four days of practicing mindfulness meditation for 20 minutes might be enough to boost your mental abilities.
Meditation and our health
In a study performed at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Fadel Zeidan and his co-authors compared 63 student volunteers, who were divided into two groups. The first group listened to a book being read aloud, while the participants in the second group received meditation training.
After just four days, the people in the meditation group experienced a boost in their cognitive abilities and scored higher averages than the other group on all cognitive tests – in some cases as much as ten times.
“The profound improvements that we found after just four days of meditation training are really surprising,” said Zeidan, who is a post-doctoral researcher at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “It goes to show that the mind is, in fact, easily changeable and highly influenced, especially by meditation.”
Meditation can also help you increase your attention span. As it turns out, some studies now suggest that our attention doesn’t have a fixed capacity and that it can be vastly increased by directed mental training.
Katherine MacLean and her co-advisor, Clifford Saron, wanted to see how meditation affects our mental abilities and what they found was remarkable. They selected 60 people to study meditation for three months at a retreat in Col orado. D uring the retreat, all participants took a 30-minute computer test to evaluate how well they could sustain visual attention and make fine visual distinctions. At the end of the study, they were able to focus on task for a much longer period of time and were better able to distinguish small differences between things they saw on the screen.
If that wasn’t enough, a study published in the journal Pain proved that meditation can reduce the emotional impact of pain. “Meditation is becoming increasingly popular as a way to treat chronic illness such as the pain caused by arthritis,” explains Dr. Christopher Brown from The University of Manchester.
Scientists found that advanced meditators show unusual activity during anticipation of pain in the prefrontal cortex. As a result, those people anticipate pain less and find pain less unpleasant.
As studies previously reported, mindfulness meditation favorably alters brain structure in just eight weeks. However, it is usually recommended to keep practicing in order to fully boost your mental abilities. You won’t see all the benefits overnight, just as a single visit to the gym won’t make you an athlete.
About the Author
James Schreiber is a natural health researcher and author who writes on the cutting edge use of lifestyle changes and diet. He has authored hundreds of articles on Candida Albicans and its effect on human health; hoping to spread awareness of this little known and frequently misdiagnosed condition.