Unless you've been living in a cave the last few years, someone has no doubt recommended meditation to you. With top entrepreneurs swearing by the practice and a parade of articles suggesting mindfulness for everything from stress reduction to better concentration, meditation is undeniably hot.
Is it also science-backed? With its religious origins, spiritual cast, and mysterious mechanisms, to the skeptically minded meditation can appear like just another dubious self-help craze.
But if you're not the type to spend time aligning your chakras or harmonizing your aura, be aware that meditation doesn't need spirituality to sell itself (though, of course, that's a fine reason to start a practice if you're so inclined). A huge body of research has found that meditation has very real effects on your brain.
The many benefits of meditation, in other words, are thoroughly backed by science and can be seen plain as day on a brain scan, a fact Buffer writer Belle Beth Cooper delved into in depth on the startup's blog. Her complete post is well worth checking out if you want a deep dive into how meditation physically alters your brain, but here are a few highlights.
Meditation has been shown to measurably reduce anxiety. How does it accomplish that? Cooper explains:
There's a section of our brains that's sometimes called the Me Center (it's technically the medial prefrontal cortex). This is the part that processes information relating to ourselves and our experiences. Normally the neural pathways from the bodily sensation and fear centers of the brain to the Me Center are really strong. When you experience a scary or upsetting sensation, it triggers a strong reaction in your Me Center, making you feel scared and under attack.
When we meditate, we weaken this neural connection. This means that we don't react as strongly to sensations that might have once lit up our Me Centers. As we weaken this connection, we simultaneously strengthen the connection between what's known as our Assessment Center (the part of our brains known for reasoning) and our bodily sensation and fear centers. So when we experience scary or upsetting sensations, we can more easily look at them rationally.
Another benefit of meditation is improved memory recall. It turns out this might be a side effect of another positive effect of mindfulness--better concentration and focus.
Researcher Catherine Kerr "found that people who practiced mindful meditation were able to adjust the brain wave that screens out distractions and increase their productivity more quickly that those who did not meditate. She said that this ability to ignore distractions could explain 'their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts,'" writes Cooper.
These changes are only the tip of the iceberg, however. Specific types of mediation have been shown to increase creativity, for instance, while a mindfulness practice can also help turn back on the clock on aging brains. Get all the details in Cooper's post.
If all this has convinced you that meditation is less self-help fad and more ultimate life hack, how do you get started? It's less difficult than you probably imagine. As Cooper points out, there are tons of apps like Headspace to help, and you only need a few minutes of meditation every day to reap rewards.