An ancient eastern practice, redesigned for western society and backed up by modern day science.
Technological advancements have allowed scientists to measure the impact that mindfulness has on the effect of continued learning within the brain. This technology has shown that even adult brains are not fixed or hardwired but are capable of being re-routed for change. Learning and practicing new skills such as languages can grow parts of the brain via ‘neuroplasticity’. By learning more mindfully and applying daily meditations we can actually alter the physical structure of our brains and become more efficient at processing new information.
One of the major improvements gained from regular meditation is an increase in white brain matter, this can be described as the brain’s connective channels. Studies have shown that after only 8 weeks of mindfulness practice the white matter sections of the brain had increased in density. Impressively, the growth of this white matter as a result of meditation led to an increased improvement in mood regulation.
If that wasn’t enough, the build-up of white matter also allowed different sections of the brain to communicate more effectively with each other. Therefore If the brain is working more efficiently then this can improve the ability to learn new information.
Increase Emotional Regulation
The ‘amygdala hijack’ refers to the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ reaction that our ancestors and primates developed in response to danger. Our brains react to extreme stress in the same way, leading to irrational moments or furious outbursts. Using MRI scanners, scientists have determined that those who practice mindfulness meditation on a regular basis have smaller amygdalas than those who do not practice. This may tell us something about the reduced stress levels enjoyed by meditators and in particular their relatively increased ability to manage stress in day to day life without feeling overwhelmed by it. Regular meditators also have a more developed hippocampus, this is the part of the brain typically associated with memory and learning.
Improved Brain Health
This neuroplasticity is key to keeping our brains supple, even later on in life. Recent studies have discovered that the brains of older meditators had the same cortical thickness as people who are much younger than them! Meditation also appeared to delay the shrinkage of brain matter that affects people as they grow older. This maintaining of brain mass means that a meditator’s brain often appeared as much as 7 years younger than their actual age. Finally, attention, body and sensory awareness were all at better levels than those who did not practice regular meditation.
In summary, by applying simple mindfulness practices to your daily learning routines you are increasing the cognitive functioning of your brain making you better able to deeply process the new information that you are learning. You will also be more in tune with your own abilities helping to make you a more efficient language learner.