Meditation is beginning to gain a foothold in the West. Perhaps our busy, Western culture has an increasing need to take a closer look at our thoughts and feelings. Or could it be because meditation is good for our brains? In fact, several studies have examined the relationship between meditation and cognitive decline, but the results are mostly contradictory. Time for some more clarity!
Researchers from Berlin, Boston and Maastricht compared 12 previous studies in which only middle-aged and older people were allowed to participate. Furthermore, they only looked at mental forms of mediation like mindfulness, Zen and Transcendental Meditation; physical varieties like yoga were not included in the comparison study. Next up, it looked at how people who practiced meditation performed on neuropsychological tests. This included studying memory, speed and intelligence, as well as the overall functioning of the brain.
The effects of meditation
Unfortunately, meditation was not found to be related to executive functioning; the so-called planning, controlling and redirecting of our behavior. Meditation did appear to show a relationship with memory, but there was still disagreement about this. However, researchers did find a strong relationship between meditation and attention! For example, mindfulness was found to improve not only our attention, but also our mental reserve (how much damage the brain can absorb before one notices any). Also, the so-called Kirtan Kriya yogic meditation (finger exercises combined with chanting tones) was found to be possibly good for overall mental functioning.
Despite never completely stopping cognitive decline, meditation seems to be good for our attention span and mental reserve, according to the research. So meditating alongside your busy job would not only offer peace of mind, but also be good for your brain! However, it is still unclear how something like mindfulness can have an effect on our brain, however researchers can meditate on that in the coming years.
This research was published the 13th of January in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
Author: Collin van Vehmendahl
Translated by: Joyce Burger