Life in the modern world is often a hurly-burly madhouse, with little or no time for peace and quiet or reflection. Few of us have even a moment to ourselves and many feel that the pace we live at is unsustainable and damaging to our inner selves. So it is unsurprising that meditation and other calming practices such as yoga are finding currency in North America. Researchers have found out there may be added benefits to practicing a certain form of meditation -- it may help build tissue on the part of the brain that deals with perception and attentiveness.
Mindful meditation is based on the Buddhist practice of vipassana, or insight meditation. With mindful meditation, the practitioner does not recite a mantra or go into a deep trance, but rather hones an exquisite awareness of the moment. Mindfulness can be practiced in diverse ways -- by slowly consuming just one raisin, savouring its taste and texture, by doing yoga, or simply by tuning out the world and focusing on one moment of time.
A recent study involving a small group of volunteers produced some startling results. MRI scans on the subjects' brains revealed a significant amount of additional gray matter on the frontal cortexes of the brain. This part of the brain handles our sensory perception and our attentiveness to our surroundings -- typically the part of the brain most susceptible to the aging process. The study is published in the journal Neuro Report.
Twenty people were involved in the study and only four of the subjects were yoga teachers, while the rest were people with traditional jobs who practiced some form of meditation for at least 40 minutes each day.
The difference in tissue buildup was especially notable in the older subjects and seems to suggest that some form of meditation may be an excellent way to forestall the thinning of the tissue around the frontal cortex that is so common with old age.
Although the study was too small to be definitive, it does back up earlier studies of Buddhist monks and others who meditate regularly, that indicated a significant alteration in brain construction. The data does seem to point to the fact that meditation can impact our gray matter in a very positive way.
Mindful meditation is easy to practice, costs nothing and can be made a part of your daily routine. Find a quiet place in your house or garden, sit down and concentrate on your breathing. The point is to allow your thoughts to happen but not to engage with those thoughts. Do not judge your thoughts -- simply allow them to flow. In this way, you are experiencing the moment, slowing down your thought process and disengaging with the world around you. Try it. It may help save your sanity and put some muscle onto your brain!