Surprisingly, meditation and memory are linked. Research proves that meditation changes the physical structure of the brain in remarkable, positive ways - including improving attention and memory. So what is the connection between meditation and memory?
In one study, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston showed that regular meditation causes the brain's cerebral cortex to thicken.
According to the study, thickening occurs because meditation increases the size of blood vessels and the blood flow in the region.
The brain's outer cortex is responsible for higher mental functions such as concentration, learning, and memory, so this is an amazing discovery. I suppose long-time fans of meditation are thinking "I told you so" right now.
Skeptical about the practical usefulness of meditation? Investment advisor Walter Zimmermann is a compelling example of meditation's literal value.
In the Time Magazine article, "How to Get Smarter, One Breath at a Time," Zimmermann explains how meditation forms the cornerstone of his ability to deliver high-value information to his clients.
From the article:
Meditation directly affects the function and structure of the brain, changing it in ways that appear to increase attention span, sharpen focus, and improve memory.
Zimmermann is in a high-pressure but lucrative business. He is paid up to $3,000 per month by hundreds of clients to analyze energy futures.
Zimmermann claims his secret weapon for staying sharp and remembering numerous facts is, yes, daily meditation.
He mediates 40 minutes in the morning and evening. When such a busy person devotes that much time each day to meditation, considering it essential to his success, the rest of us could do worse than try it ourselves!
Even less meditation can provide benefits. A study in the journal Consciousness and Cognition found that even as little as 20 minutes of meditation per day boosts performance on timed concentration and memory tests.
You don't need to be a monk on a mountain top to improve your brain through meditation. Mindfulness meditation practiced in many Western countries has been shown by research to be effective in causing the cortex to thicken and concentration to improve. It is also known as "awareness" or "insight" meditation.
For basic instruction on mindfulness meditation, watch the short video below. Dr. David Nichtern, leader of yoga and meditation workshops worldwide, describes a 3-step mindfulness meditation practice you can start today:
Sara Lazar, a lead investigator in the Massachusetts General meditation study mentioned above, had this to say about the significance of the cortical thickening that occurs through regular meditation (from New Scientist.com):
"You are exercising the cerebral cortex while you meditate, and it gets bigger," she says.
The finding is in line with studies showing that accomplished musicians, athletes and linguists all have thickening in relevant areas of the cortex. It is further evidence, says Lazar, that yogis "aren't just sitting there doing nothing".
To learn more about the discovery that the brain can be remolded (a science called "neuroplasticity"), check out the book Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, by Sharon Begley, science writer for the Wall Street Journal.
From Begley's book:
But as we learn from studies performed on Buddhist monks, an important component in changing the brain is to tap the power of mind and, in particular, focused attention.
This is the classic Buddhist practice of mindfulness, a technique that has become popular in the West and that is immediately available to everyone.
The focused attention that meditation enables has direct practical applications. Who couldn't benefit from more sustained attention at work? Or at school?
A study by the University of Washington put it to the test.
Participants were put in high-stress multi-tasking situations where they were required to repeatedly answer the phone, check email, update calendars, and send text messages.
Those who regularly practiced meditation far outperformed the others in their ability to focus and stay on task.
I find these discoveries about the link between meditation, memory, and attention exciting. It's becoming clear that transformation which makes your brain more focused and powerful really is possible.
Mindfulness meditation leaves you feeling refreshed. Your mind is often clearer even after your first attempt. I recommend it!
1. Holzel, Carmody, et al. "Mindfulness Practice Leads to Increases in Regional Brain Gray Matter Density." Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 2011; 191 (1): 36. DOI: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006
2. Lisa Takeuchi Cullen. "How to Get Smarter, One Breath at a Time." Time Magazine, 10 Jan. 2006. Web: www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1147167,00.html
3. Zeidan, Johnson, et al. "Mindfulness Meditation Improves Cognition: Evidence of Brief Mental Training." Consciousness and Cognition, 19(2): 597-605, June 2010. DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2010.03.014
4. Levy, Wobbrock, et al. "The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Multitasking in a High-Stress Information Environment." Proceedings of Graphics Interface, 2012: 45-52.
5. MacLean, Ferrer, Aichele, et al. "Intensive Meditation Training Improves Perceptual Discrimination and Sustained Attention." Psychological Science, June 2010, 21:829-839. DOI: 10.1177/0956797610371339
Last Updated: 06/11/2020