In elementary, we used to have moments for hingalangin (breath + prayer) after every recess and lunch. I thought it was simply another form of prayer. I never realized that we were actually practising meditation until I learned what meditation is.
In university, our professor for the concurrent education classes introduced us to the benefits of meditation, especially for us aspiring teachers who will be facing a lot of stress as we deal with various kinds of people at one time.
After my doctor diagnosed me with depression and after I took a number of yoga classes, I learned more about meditation.
Meditation takes on a variety of forms. Steven Handel of The Emotion Machine has a great meditation guide that introduces beginners to the practice. Thich Nhat Hanh also has a wonderful series of books on mindfulness practices throughout one’s daily activities: How to Walk, How to Sit, How to Love, and How to Eat.
Written by Kathy Graham JUNE 23, 2015
There’s so much research these days looking at how sitting quietly seemingly doing nothing can radically change the structure of the brain. Of course, if you’re a meditator (like me) you know perfectly well that you’re not just blanking out on a cushion but rather paying very close attention to the riotous contents of your mind, and maybe even also trying to open your heart to deeper and deeper levels of loving and kind feelings. Hence I find it extremely vindicating that this once minority pursuit has now become mainstream due to scientific interest and a slew of studies that point to meditation being, in fact, a very active learning process with untold benefits.
Professor Sara Lazar is a research scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and here she’s discussing some of the latest research in the area, including a study her own team did. This involved scanning the brains of a group of people who’d never meditated before, putting them through an eight-week meditation program – the very well respected secular Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program developed in 1979 by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn – then scanning their brains again. She says, “We showed that there is growth in certain brain regions as a result of this meditation practice.”
For example, change was measured in a region of the brain called the posterior singular cortex. Lazar says this is “the number one region that goes in Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a very important part of the brain. It’s found to be involved in a lot of different processes, in particular its main thing seems to be about mind wandering and staying in the present moment, related to memory. And this is an area that seems to be improved by [meditation].”
Change was also measured in the hippocampus, which Lazar says is similarly “important for ageing, and Alzheimer’s and memory, and those two – the posterior singular cortex and hippocampus – work together. And so this data has suggested [meditation] could potentially slow down or prevent those sorts of diseases.”
Changes to the brain are one thing. What about such changes translating into different (read: positive) feelings, behaviour and outlook in life? It turns out the amygdala which is implicated in stress, anxiety and fear, also changed in meditation i.e. it got smaller, and that meditators subsequently reported via a standard stress related questionnaire, feeling less hassled and worried in their lives even though their circumstances stayed the same.
Likewise, a part of the brain “that’s involved in producing a lot of the molecules that are important for anxiety and depression and positive mood as well, also changed as a result of meditation,” says Lazar, adding the change in this region was correlated with a marked improvement in wellbeing.
If you’ve never meditated before, and want to start in order to begin reaping the benefits but perhaps feel daunted by what you imagine must be a giant daily time commitment, fear not. According to Lazar, “there has been a little bit of research suggesting that even five or 10 minutes a day can provide some benefit. And so at this point we like to tell people just doing five, 10, 15 minutes a day, three or four times a week, you’re probably going to get some benefit, and if you can do more, that’s great.”
You can learn more about the power of meditation at Mind & Its Potential 2015. Visit the website here.