There are two types of intelligence: crystallized intelligence and fluid intelligence.
Crystallized intelligence is your ability to utilize information, skills, and experience already learned -- basically, it's cerebral knowledge. This tends to build as you age, and is emphasized in most Western cultures (especially since it's easily tested on standardized exams).
Fluid intelligence, by contrast, is your ability to identify patterns, solve novel problems, and use logic in new situations. It's not about how much you know; it's about your ability to be creative, aware, innovative, and visionary.
It's relatively easy to improve your crystallized knowledge: read, listen to podcasts, collect more facts, learn. But fluid intelligence isn't like that. It's not about facts and figures; it's about your capacity to take something you've never seen before and work with it -- to be ingenious.
Now, studies show that there is something you can do to dramatically improve your fluid intelligence as well as your overall IQ: meditate.
That's correct: Meditation is not just good for your physiological health, reducing stress, improving mood, and setting you up for emotional equilibrium rather than reactivity.
It can also make you significantly smarter.
Siegfried Othmer, former president of the neurofeedback division of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, conducted neurofeedback research on participants using brainwave training (a specific form of meditation). Those who meditated showed an average gain in IQ of 23 percent.
That is remarkable.
Not only did the meditators improve their IQ, but the effect was lasting, according to a follow-up study conducted one year later. Participants who meditated showed significant gains in creativity, concentration, and self-awareness.
Another astonishing study in Consciousness and Cognition showed that after just four days of daily 20-minute meditation, participants demonstrated significant improvements in memory, cognition, and lowered stress levels. Perhaps most notably, the group that meditated scored as much as 10 times better on a working memory task -- an important part of fluid intelligence.
Why does meditation improve your IQ? There are a few reasons, but one of the main ones is that deep meditation slows brain activity.
As slower brainwaves take over (also known as being in a delta or theta state), the brain increases its own plasticity, or ability to reorganize itself. By practicing focused attention during meditation, whether on your breath, a mantra, or even music, you give your brain just the right kind of respite. That's all you need to do: You rest your brain, it improves itself. Amazing, no?
It's worth noting that neither of the groups that experienced such extraordinary improvements were yogis, nor were they meditating for hours at a time. In fact, the second group meditated for only 20 minutes a day over four days -- that's 80 minutes total, less time than it takes to watch a movie.
Everyone knows meditating is good for you; the trick is getting started. It's kind of like going to the gym. We all know we should do it, but ...
If you do decide to give it a try, there are lots of ways to proceed. One popular one is Headspace, an app that bills itself as "a gym membership for your mind." It has guided meditations and offers convenience in that you can track each day you've meditated and see your progress.
Other options include programs that use binaural beats to help induce whole-brain functioning, or a way of connecting the left and right sides of your brain. LifeFlow, for example, offers a 10-track meditation program that combines low-frequency binaural beats with isochronic audio and beat patterns. This induces certain patterns in your brain -- specifically, alpha, theta, and delta wave states, guiding you to a state of deep meditation.
Finally, there are plenty of free options. You can always practice classic mindfulness meditation and sit with your eyes closed, focusing on your breath. Or you can listen to a particularly peaceful track of music and do the same thing. I'm personally partial to the solfeggio frequencies, ancient music the beats and vibrations of which were found in the Gregorian chants of long ago. You can find those for free on YouTube or buy them on iTunes.
The New England Journal of Medicine says you must meditate for a minimum of 12 to 15 minutes at a time to get the health benefits of it. That's not very long. In fact, the more research that is done on meditation, the more apparent it is that it's not about doing it for hours at a time -- it's just about doing it regularly.
So consider making a meditation practice one of your new year's resolutions for 2017. Give your brain a rest. It may just help you become even more of a genius.