Meditation: Good for the Body, Good for the Brain
Meditation has a profound effect on our bodies. This ancient form of deep relaxation provides a moment of repose to recharge ourselves. In return, our bodies thank us with lower blood pressure, reduced anxiety and improved mood. Meditation has also been shown to decrease the risk of chronic disease and enhance quality of life. But there’s more to it. Many people experience heightened clarity of thought. The brain just seems to work better.
The perception that the brain is functioning at a higher level is no illusion. Numerous studies have dissected the many processes enhanced by meditation, which has been proven to increase brain density and boost connections between neurons.
What is Cortical Gyrification?
The more we delve into meditation’s physiological effects, the more we learn about brain function. Recently, researchers at UCLA found that regular meditation increases cortical gyrification—the folding in the cerebral cortex that helps the brain process information. The cerebral cortex controls memory, consciousness, thought processing, decision-making and awareness. Gyrification creates folds in the cerebral cortex that improve neural processing. As a result, gyrification boosts our ability to understand information, focus on tasks, retrieve memories and make decisions.
In the study, the UCLA researchers compared people who meditated regularly with those who did not meditate at all. For those who meditated, gyrification was widespread, affecting emotional and mental health, as well as cognitive function. Increased gyrification was also found in areas linked to introspection and compassion, which confirms such effects reported by many people who regularly practice meditation.
Even better, gyrification increased among more experienced practitioners. So, the more you meditate, the better the results.
A Long List of Benefits
As beneficial as meditation is for the brain, it may even be better for the body. The simple act of reducing stress resonates throughout the body—improving cardiovascular, immune and metabolic health.
But that’s only the macro view. Meditation seems to benefit our bodies on the molecular level. Regular meditation is shown to reverse damage to telomeres, the fragile strings of DNA at the end of chromosomes associated with cellular aging. The practice also improves survival for cancer patients and reduces the side effects of chemotherapy. In addition, research has shown decreased inflammation and increased energy.
How to Start
If you are not meditating, I recommend you start! The hard part will be finding ways to incorporate it into your daily life. Think of it as taking time for you. Ten minutes a day is enough to bring significant benefits.
You may want to begin with Shamantha meditation, an ancient Tibetan form ideal for beginners. In Shamantha, you focus the breath on a specific object, directing all your attention towards your breath.
In a quiet, comfortable place, find a small object and focus on it. Try to clear your brain, acknowledging stray thoughts and releasing them. Visualize each inhalation and exhalation going to and from your chosen object. Don’t worry, your mind will wander. Simply bring it back to the object. No judgment necessary. There’s a reason it’s called a “practice.”
After you have practiced consistently for a couple of weeks, you will really start to notice the difference. You will feel calmer, more grounded and more alert. And though you will not actually feel the accelerated cortical gyrification taking place, with time and practice, you will definitely notice the benefits.