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Meditation – could there be a better time to learn?

Learning to meditate while staying at home may not only help you cope with the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, it may even keep your brain from ageing

Many of us are stressed out and that’s completely understandable given the global pandemic and the feeling of things being out of control.

If you haven’t tried meditation then now might be the best time ever to try it, and I say that as from experience I have found it to be hugely beneficial for my state of mind and my patients.

Many people self medicate in times of stress by eating, drinking, smoking, gambling, shopping or other compulsive behaviours. Wouldn’t it be great if we moved from self medicating to self-meditating ?

And the science also supports the belief that meditation is good for your brain, now and for the future.

A recently published 18-year analysis* of the mind of a Buddhist monk by the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that daily, intensive meditation slowed the monk’s brain ageing by as much as eight years when compared to a control group.

The project was started in the 1990s by neuroscientist Richard Davidson and his relationship with the Dalai Lama. Davidson started making connections between positive emotions and brain health, which jump-started research for the study.

Using MRI and a machine learning framework which estimates “brain-age” from brain imaging, Davidson and lead scientist Nagesh Adluru studied the mind of Tibetan Buddhist meditation master Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche over the course of almost two decades.

The goal of the research project was to find out whether there was a difference in the rate of ageing between the brains of seasoned meditation masters compared to those who were novice practitioners. 

Rinpoche was first scanned in 2002 at the age of 27 when at the time, he had already completed almost ten years of taking part in meditation retreats. He was scanned again when he reached the following ages:  30, 32 and 41 years old.

The last time he was scanned, he had just returned from a four-and-a-half-year wandering retreat, and his brain was calculated to be 33-years-old, eight years younger than his biological age.

The researchers compared Rinpoche’s ageing brain to a control group and his appeared to age much slower than the general focus group. 

We can’t all be Buddhist meditation masters or meditate intensely but we can learn to be mindful and let our brains meditate, for even just a few minutes a day. There are a number of apps including Calm and Headspace and mental health charity Mind also has this resource: https://www.mindful.org/how-to-meditate/

Dr Clara Russell 

https://centerhealthyminds.org/assets/files-publications/adluru-brainage.pdf