On August 3, one of the main popularizers of Tibetan meditation in the West, Yonge Mingyur Rinpoche, arrives in Moscow with a lecture. The author of Buddha, the Brain and the Neurophysiology of Happiness has been involved in brain research during meditation for many years, finding more and more evidence of its benefits for each of us.
What is meditation
Meditation is a variety of psychophysiological practices (religious or health-improving) that allow you to make your mind clearer, understand yourself and control your mind. Depending on the technique, meditations are based on concentration and / or willpower. Initially, the practice of meditation came from Hinduism. It occupies an important place in yoga. However, today, meditation is increasingly spoken of without an esoteric component - as a means to train your mind and become calmer.
How meditation is scientifically beneficial
There are over 3000 scientific studies on the benefits of meditation. They were attended by both Buddhist monks, who devoted thousands of hours to meditation, and beginners who practice meditation for 15 minutes a day. The results recorded positive changes in most of the subjects. And here are the ones.
For this, people usually begin to meditate. A study of 3,500 adults found it worked. When our bodies are suddenly stressed or threatened, the brain responds with a fight-or-flight response. It is caused by a surge in the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which leads to sleep disturbances, depression and anxiety, high blood pressure, fatigue and confusion. Meditation provides an opportunity to detach, become aware of the emergence of stress and choose how to respond to it. For example, it might be a regular relaxation practice that allows you to act rationally even under stress.
There is a region in our brain that is responsible for fear. It is the amygdala, called the amygdala, which acts as a signaling device, looking for sources of danger. She saved the life of an ancient man, catching rustles in the forest or aggressive fellow tribesmen. For a modern person, it often works as a "false challenge", awakening unwarranted anxiety. Studies have shown that the activity of the amygdala decreases when a person is in a meditative state. These data were obtained both in experiments with people without experience in meditation, and in trials with both healthy people and those with chronic anxiety. The effect is comparable to that of drugs, but does not cause side effects. Regular practice reprograms the center of fear, reduces anxiety and the symptoms of anxiety disorders and panic attacks.
© Manuel Breva Colmeiro
Our brains tend to emotionally color or “stick” to situations and problems. For example, if a person is in trouble at work, he may bring them into family life. Conversely, scrapes in your personal life can be reflected in your work. Meditation practitioners have the ability not to stick. To see an emotion, a problem, to be aware of it and not fall into the trap.
Scientists attribute this to a decrease in the production of substances called cytokines. They are released in response to stress, affect mood, and often cause depression. Connections appear in the brains of those who practice meditation that increase the level of empathy and the ability to rationally evaluate problems.
Research shows that meditation is as effective as antidepressants! Therefore, people with depression are increasingly prescribed it as an alternative to medication.
As early as the eighth week of regular meditation, practitioners form their "unique brain" with well-developed areas. These areas are primarily associated with awareness and memory. Scientists are observing an increase in the thickness of the hippocampus, which increases the ability of the brain to learn and remember new material, as well as regulate its emotions. It used to be thought that mindfulness is the effect of long reflection and self-concentration. It has now become clear that physical changes occur in the brain during meditation that help develop this skill.
Attention deficit problems are not unique to children; attention deficit disorder has been diagnosed in millions of adults. One of the main benefits of meditation is to improve focus and concentration. Like sports training, daily meditation increases focus strength and endurance. It was found that two weeks of practice was enough to increase the attention rate by 16%. Through meditation, cognitive skills at work quickly develop - and we can concentrate better on the tasks at hand.
Prevention of brain aging
I lost my keys, I don't remember the name, I can't solve a simple math problem - as we approach middle age, we are increasingly faced with similar problems. The decline in mental capacity is associated with a loss of volumes of gray matter - the brain neurons responsible for memory and learning. This is called aging-related cognitive decline. For many years, scientists thought this decline was inevitable, but research over the past two decades has shown that the adult brain changes throughout life. This is a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity.
Regular meditation increases the neuroplasticity of the brain, preserves and even increases the concentration of gray matter. The brains of people over the age of 50 who are constantly practicing meditation "look" seven years younger.
Meditation helps you to relax and not get hung up on thoughts that interfere with sleep. This practice activates the area of the brain that is responsible for the transition to deep sleep. Thanks to it, we fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep. When the sleep characteristics of the two groups were compared (one practiced meditation, the other did not), it became clear that the participants who meditated fell asleep faster, their sleep was deeper and longer than those who did not meditate.
Meditation reduces the perception of pain in the brain. It complements chronic pain medication or physical therapy. Research confirms that mindfulness calms down the brain centers responsible for pain, and over time, these changes take root and restructure the brain itself so that patients no longer feel pain as intensely as they used to. Polls show that they stop noticing her.
Clinics prescribe meditation to help patients cope with pain from heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. It is also used to relieve migraines, chronic fatigue, and even multiple sclerosis.
How to start meditating
Most researchers agree that eight weeks of daily sessions of 10-12 minutes are enough to experience the positive effects of meditation. Experienced practitioners recommend meditating in the morning or immediately after waking up, when the brain is not yet preoccupied with solving a large number of problems.
You don't have to meditate while sitting at home. Simple breathing practice is available anytime, anywhere. Concentrating on the breath is the most common approach to meditation. The main thing is to focus on the process of inhaling and exhaling. If thoughts and emotions come during practice, you don't need to block them. Look at them from the side like a boat passing you on the river, and continue to concentrate on your breathing.
Basic Meditation Practice by Mingyur Rinpoche
- Sit in a relaxed position with your back straight.
- Your eyes can be open or closed.
- Take a couple of minutes to be calm. Think back to that sense of immersion in relaxation when you decided to take a break after a busy day.
- Now just breathe through your mouth or nose.
- Bring awareness to your breathing, feel the air being drawn into and out of your lungs.
- Take pauses between inhalation and exhalation, in these intervals, relax your awareness, immerse yourself in the process itself.
- If thoughts come, try to focus on the breath again.
- Continue this for 5-10 minutes.
- Finish the exercise with rest in a calm state.