Written for plentea, 2021.
Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not passive. It is actually actively training your brain to control the thoughts that pop up. The origins of meditation are difficult to pinpoint, however the earliest written records can be found from India in 1500 BC. The practice of yoga was actually created as a way to find more comfort while sitting to meditate. So naturally as yoga became popular in the West, the practice of meditation followed. Recently, many new studies have been released documenting the benefits of meditation, here are the top three:
1. Reduces Activation of Fear & Anxiety Centers
Our body’s stress system is ancient. We have the same hormones, reflexes and neurological pathways that we did as cavemen. The blood pumping, heart racing stress response we feel during a big presentation was actually designed to help us survive threat in the wild. The process of feeling stress and undergoing the stress response was designed to be turned off once the threat is gone because once turned off the body can go back to digesting food, creating proteins, and repairing damaged cells. However, in modern life it can be difficult to find a break from the stress response. Between social media, traffic, work stress, and even caffeine consumption, stress is always present. Luckily, meditation actually helps to turn the stress response off by lowering the production of inflammatory cytokines and stress promoting cortisol.
2. Delays Neurological Aging
The human brain begins aging in the late 20s early 30s. When the brain begins to age, we see a reduction in brain size along with a decrease in neuron repair. This can lead to difficulty with memory, language, and cognitive function. The best way to support an aging brain is still up for debate but we do know ample sleep, a healthy diet, and exercise are a great place to start. This is because sleep, diet, and exercise are all associated with increased levels of brain derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF. BDNF is known to repair and stimulate the growth of new neurons, which can delay signs of an aging brain. Additionally, a recent study from 2017 demonstrated that regular yoga and meditation can increase BDNF. There are also some foods like blueberries and matcha that promote the production of BDNF and a healthy brain!
3. Improves Attention Span
My favorite description of meditation is to picture your thoughts as cars and let each one drive away. When we meditate it is not the absence of thoughts, but it is our reaction a detachment to them. By training your brain to watch the cars drive away, you are naturally improving the length of your attention span. One study even showed that a regular meditation practice helped to improve mind wandering, attention, and anxious thoughts.
If you are new to meditation here is an easy exercise to get started:
Find a comfortable seated position. Start with your eyes open and let your gaze soften. Take a deep inhale through your nose and sigh it out your mouth. Begin to look around the room, notice 5 things you see. Once you notice five things close your eyes and begin to feel. Notice 4 things you can feel. Next begin to listen, notice 3 things you can hear. Begin to smell and notice 2 things you can smell. Lastly, notice 1 thing you can taste.
By using all of your senses in this meditation you are brought right into the present moment and your exact surroundings.
Pour yourself a fresh cup of matcha and your brain will thank you!