Meditation not only increases clarity and reduces stress, it physically changes your brain (Harvard)

Our first step to becoming antifragile involves taking action to deepen our connection with who we are at our best. One of the four approaches that Inner Leadership recommends for achieving this is meditation.

We’ve known for a long time that meditation increases our clarity, our focus, and our ability to stay calm in a crisis. But now a neuroscientist from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital has found physical evidence for how meditation achieves this.

By comparing the brains of people who meditate with the brains of people who do not, neuroscientist Sara Lazar quickly found that people who had been meditating for several years had enhanced sensory perception.

This was to be expected, she thought, because:

“When you’re mindful, you’re paying attention to your breathing, to sounds, to the present moment experience, and shutting cognition [thinking] down. So it stands to reason your senses would be enhanced.”

But when she measured the physical brains of the meditators she was amazed to discover something more:

“[Their brains had] more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision making.”

Of course, these people might already have had bigger brains before they started meditating. So next Sara measured the brains of a group of people who had never meditated. She did this before and after they signed up for a simple mindfulness-based stress reduction programme.

After only eight weeks, Sara and her team found significant changes not only in the meditators’ mental abilities but also in the physical sizes of their brains:

  • a thickening of the area of the brain involved in self-definition and self-esteem
  • a thickening of the part of the brain that assists in learning, cognition, memory, and management of emotions
  • a thickening of the part of the brain involved with maintaining a balanced perspective, empathycompassion, and interpersonal exchange
  • a thickening of the area that produces the neurotransmitters that make the decision between agitation and amiability, and which enable us to function with greater confidence and calm, and finally
  • a shrinking of the part of the brain that worries about our fight or flight response

These people were meditating for an average of only around 30 minutes a day. Some said they got benefits from meditating for only ten minutes a day.

Jack Dorsey, co-founder and former CEO of Twitter, starts each day with 30 minutes of meditation.

Mahatma Gandhi used meditation to bring down an entire empire. He said:

“I meditate for every morning an hour. And when my workload is especially high I get up an hour earlier and then I meditate for two hours.”

Would you like to reduce your levels of stress and increase your self-esteem, your focus, your learning, memory, empathy, sense of perspective, and your ability to get things done? Are you willing to meditate for 10–30 minutes a day?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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(And remember: you can’t learn to swim just by reading about swimming, you also need to do the practice.)

Photo By dierk schaefer via

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