We’ve known for a long time that enjoying the benefits of meditation doesn’t require signing all your belongings over to a guru or retiring to a cave in Tibet. Modern science has demonstrated that a simple 10- to 15-minute meditation practice relieves stress, relaxes muscles, slows breathing and decreases metabolism and blood pressure. With regular practice, these effects last far beyond the mediation session. That’s not a bad return for sitting quietly, concentrating on your breathing. According to report by a team of Harvard researchers, meditation appears to help you concentrate as well.
The scientists had six adults practice mindfulness mediation for eight weeks while six control subjects did not. Mindfulness mediation is basically practicing stillness; it involves paying sustained attention to your body and to sensations related to your breathing. Your uncontrolled thoughts are minimized or ignored during the 10- or 20-minute meditation session.
The half-dozen meditators were better able to control their brain alpha waves than the non-meditators. Alpha waves are one of five activity patterns seen in the brain. They correlate with a state of relaxed awareness. They are great for concentration and, as expected, the meditators were better able to concentrate during the experiment than the controls. Furthermore, their abilities continued to improve over the eight week course of the study.
This is significant because alpha rhythms change in parts of the brain involved in sensing the outside world. Scientists think they may play an important role in regulating perceptions. Presented with a cue, the meditators were indeed able to modulate their alpha rhythms — something the non-meditators could not manage to do. The finding links enhanced alpha wave activity and the effect meditation has on behaviors such as concentration.
The Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital promotes the use of meditative practices. To achieve the relaxation response they recommend, follow their simple directions. You can also follow along with a guided meditation session on YouTube. Or if you prefer podcasts, try Meditation Oasis or My Thought Coach.