Most of us won’t find much time to meditate today, between Black Friday bargain hunting and cleaning up after yesterday’s big Thanksgiving feast.
But when things settle down, it might be worth our while to master that ancient practice, which is believed to have many benefits, both psychological and physical.
Research to be published in an upcoming edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences documents some potential benefits of meditation. In a small study, a team led by researchers from Yale University performed functional MRIs on the brains of 12 people who averaged about 10,000 hours of mindfulness meditation and an equal number of people who were newcomers to the practice. They found that among experienced meditators, areas of the brain associated with wandering thoughts, anxiety and disorders such as schizophrenia and autism were calmed during meditation and even when the subjects weren’t meditating. No such phenomena were observed among those new to meditation.
Among experienced meditators, the researchers observed decreased activity in parts of the brain known as the “default mode network,” which may play a role in a wide range of disorders from simple attention lapses anxiety to ADHD and maybe Alzheimer’s disease. Again, that reduced brain activity persisted even when the meditators weren’t meditating.
The study suggests that meditation, when done properly and over time, can alter the brain’s activity, improve focus and keep the mind from wandering -- perhaps providing lasting health benefits. Plus, there’s no downside to meditation. Anyone can learn to do it, and it has no negative side effects. Here are some tips to get you started.