An ancient eastern practice, redesigned for western society and backed up by modern day science.
In recent years, improved technology has allowed scientists to measure the impact that mindfulness really 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 rewired for change. Learning and practicing new skills such as languages can grow parts of the brain through a phenomenon known as ‘neuroplasticity’. By learning more mindfully and applying daily meditations we can actually alter the physical structure of our brains.
One of the major improvements gained from meditation is an increase in white brain matter, this can be described as the brain’s connective channels. Studies have shown that after only 12 weeks of mindfulness practice, researchers have found that white matter sections of the brain had increased in density. Impressively, the growth of white matter in the brain as a result of meditation led to an objective improvement in mood regulation.
If that wasn’t enough, the build-up of white matter allows different sections of the brain to communicate more effectively with each other. We already knew that mindfulness meditation helps people to regulate emotions and better manage stress. 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 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 have smaller amygdalas than those who do not. This may tell us something about 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, a part of the brain typically associated with stress hormones and ways of controlling them.
Improved Brain Health
This neuroplasticity is key to keeping our brains supple, even later in life. A recent study discovered that the brains of meditators had the same cortical thickness as those of much younger people. Meditation also appeared to circumvent the shrinkage of brain matter that affects people as they grow older. This maintaining of brain mass meant meditator’s brains appeared as much as 7 years “younger” than their actual age. In addition, attention, body awareness and sensory awareness were all at better levels than those who did not practice meditation.
In summary by applying simple mindfulness practices to you learning you are increasing the cognitive functioning of your brain making you better able to deeply process the new information that you are learning.