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Is meditation really all that?

Meditation is the practice of using various techniques to train the mind to focus and be clear. The modern world is becoming more and more plugged-in, frenetic and multi-tasking. Meditation may well need to be the next step in our evolution.

Eastern religions and philosophies have always extolled the benefits of meditation. In the West, we have been more skeptical of the benefits of sitting still and doing “nothing”. Over the last few decades, science has been applying tools like functional MRI’s and EEG’s and rigorous research techniques, like longitudinal studies, to challenge meditation’s benefit claims.

The evidence has been consistent and impressive:

  • Meditation keeps the brain young

Springer’s Journal of Cognitive Enhancement recently published one of the most extensive longitudinal studies on meditation to date. Its data spans seven years and shows how meditating holds off age-related decline, that is, it keeps our brains young.

The study began in 2011 from a population of 22 to 69-year-olds who attended a three-month meditation retreat.

The immediate findings, published after the retreat, revealed that the training enhanced the participants’ emotional well-being and led them to perform better on tasks related to focus and sustaining attention.

Seven years later,  researchers checked back in with the group. All of the participants reported that they continued to meditate in some capacity.  Evaluations showed that their mental improvements had withstood the test of time. These benefits were especially true for the older participants.

  • Meditation keeps the brain fit and strong

It was thought that after a certain age, somewhere in the twenties, the brain stops growing and starts declining. This simplistic approach has been disproven and replaced with the concept of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to mould and form. Pathways we use a lot get stronger and bigger. Parts of the brain we don’t use, get smaller and weaker.

You can teach an old dog new tricks.

Article by Dr Marcelle Stastny MBChB (PTA) FC Psych (UCT)

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