Meditation and the Mind
Today, we’ll study the connection between meditation and brain health.
In the world of neuroscience, the connection between meditation and brain health is a big discussion. Many studies show that meditation can calm you down, pump you up, and even help you sleep better. There’s evidence that some forms of meditation can offer similar benefits to exercise—actually helping you grow new healthy brain cells, improve neural connections, and improve overall brain function. And because of all this research, people often ask Dr. Wendy Suzuki, “Which is better for the brain—exercise or meditation?” When we look at the science, the answer is that it’s a draw.
Both provide clear brain benefits. Both offer striking mood enhancement. Both can help manage stress. Both can increase the size of various brain structures. And both have positive effects on attention. So to Wendy, the answer to whether you should exercise or meditate is yes.
If you can integrate both intentional exercise and meditation into your routine, then you can benefit from the great things they both offer.
Just like there are lots of ways to exercise, there are lots of ways to meditate. So the best way to begin is to try a few things and see what fits. Three meditations that are most common are focused attention meditation, mindfulness meditation, and loving-kindness.
Focused attention is what you’ll likely experience if you take a yoga class. Your instructor will challenge you to focus on your breathing—to simply feel it coming in and going out and avoid letting your mind wander.
Mindfulness meditation is a bit more advanced, because it builds upon what you learn with focused attention meditation. Mindfulness requires you to practice a detached, non-judgmental observation of the feelings you have as you have them so you can develop greater overall awareness of yourself. In the process, you can reduce anxiety and stress and develop a greater sense of calm in your life.
Loving-kindness meditation is designed to help you cultivate compassion for yourself and others. It involves sitting in a calm, meditative state and repeatedly thinking or saying kind mantras about yourself or focusing on someone you love or care about. A common mantra that accompanies loving-kindness meditation is “May you have happiness. May you be free from suffering. May you experience joy and ease.”
Cultivating a meditation practice takes times. For most people, it involves lots of starts and stops. Watch this morning tea ritual, give it a try, and see how it feels. Your brain will thank you.
Tomorrow, we’ll learn three good habits to boost our brains.
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