Meditation is one of the four approaches that Inner Leadership recommends for deepening our connection with ourselves. It increases our ability to remain calm, while maintaining focus and clarity — the first step to becoming antifragile.
Now a neuroscientist from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School has found physical evidence for why meditation works.
Comparing the brains of people who meditated with those who did not, neuroscientist Sara Lazar quickly found that people who had been meditating for several years had enhanced sensory perception.
This is 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. It stands to reason your senses would be enhanced.”
But when she measured the physical brains of 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, those people might already have had bigger brains before they started meditating. So Sara then measured the brains of a group of people who had never meditated. She did this before and after they signed up for a mindfulness-based stress reduction programme.
After only eight weeks, Sara and her team found significant changes not only in the meditators’ mental capacities 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 keeping perspective, empathy, compassion, and interpersonal exchange
- A thickening of the area that produces the neurotransmitters that determine agitation versus amiability, and which then enables us to function with greater peace and confidence
- A shrinking of the part of the brain that worries about our fight or flight responses
The people she studied were meditating for an average of only around 30 minutes per day. Some said they got benefits from meditating for only ten minutes per day.
Jack Dorsey, 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 an hour each morning. And when my workload is especially high I get up an hour earlier and I meditate for two hours.”
Would you like to reduce your stress levels? Would you like to increase your self-esteem, learning, memory, empathy, sense of perspective, ability to manage your emotions, or 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 don’t learn to swim by reading about swimming, you also need to practice.)