When people hear the word “meditation,” what usually comes to mind are images of zen Buddhists sitting cross-legged with eyes closed, breeze blowing through swaying leaves, sweet flowing water, some chanting, and just generally a picturesque representation of tranquility. Yup, there is no denying that meditation can help provide peace and relaxation, but there is absolutely more than that. Aside from being able to stay calm and composed (which are already good motivations), meditation helps provide improved cognition.
Research findings have actually shown that meditation has positive effects on cognition. Daily activities, no matter how simple such as choosing where to eat, solving a friend’s problem, or making a mental computation of the total restaurant bill, will take a toll on the brain at one point or another. Maintaining good cognitive abilities is important in functioning efficiently every day. Here are the ways that Meditation can help people enhance their cognition.
- It Improves Concentration and Attention
A lot of people, at one point or another, have had or are having difficulty concentrating. One solution to this that they might find efficient and cost-effective is practicing meditation. One study has found that doing meditation training for only two few weeks can already help the subjects’ memory and focus at the GRE’s verbal reasoning portion. The increase in score went as much as 16 percentile points. There was also a research conducted in 2013, where three groups were used as subjects. One group underwent the “open monitoring” meditation technique, another underwent “focused attention” meditation, and the last one did relaxation techniques. The results showed that the two groups who did meditation technique have improved their concentration, while the relaxation group has not. One of meditations primary goals is to strengthen a person’s focus, and so it can be expected to actually benefit people who seek to improve their concentration and attentiveness.
- It Boosts Creativity
Interestingly, meditation, which is always found to be peaceful and calming, can actually unleash the creative beast inside a person. One study involved a group of 40 students who were made to meditate for 7 days, 30 minute per day. This group was compared to another group who underwent relaxation training. The study has showed that the group who meditated had better creative thinking scores that those who underwent relaxation training. Another study has shown that the “open monitoring” method of meditation helps with divergent thinking (creating many ideas), while “focused attention” meditation helps with convergent thinking (arriving at a single solution).
- It Enhances Working Memory
The working memory refers to the amount of information that the mind can simultaneously hold and control, and it is among the executive functions. One research has found that students who have undergone meditation even for only four days have had improved cognition, including improved working memory.
- It Helps with Better Self Control and Will Power
Researchers have found that only after five days of meditation, subjects which included children, college students, and adults over 65 years old, have achieved better self-control through practicing meditation. Meditation has also shown a positive effect in willpower. A study has shown that subjects who were put in a willpower depleted state were helped by meditation in having the self-control that they needed.
- It Reduces Anxiety
Meditation is one of the popular methods that people have been resorting to in order to get relief from stress and anxiety. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or MBSR has been developed in the University of Massachusetts in order to decrease a person’s physical and mental stress level. Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation has the ability to lessen anxiety. The changes seem to have happened in the part of the brain that is related to self referential thoughts. Mindfulness meditation reduces the activity that occurs in the “default mode network,” (DMN) or the brain network responsible for “me-centered” thoughts. The DMN is activated when the brain is not focused on thinking about anything in particular, and the mind just essentially wanders. This behavior is usually related to worrying. MBSR also helps people who have problems with focusing attention, and those who have social anxiety.
- It Enhances Cognitive Flexibility
Having flexible cognition allows a person to switch between various ideas, or simultaneously think about them. It also allows the brain to adapt to new settings or situations. Researchers have found that those meditated and took a cognitive flexibility test were able to resist automatic thinking processes, and performed better than those who did not meditate.
- It Slows Down the Decline of Cognition
Age really does affect a person’s cognitive abilities, and doing preventive measures, such as meditation, can help a person retain the sharpness of his mind as he ages. A few studies have emphasized the potential of meditation as having a protective effect on cognition. One study has observed the effect of meditation on the elderly. The participants included 73 seniors who were grouped into 3, according to the meditation technique that they will undergo. Two groups underwent either transcendental meditation or mindfulness meditation, while the other group underwent a relaxation program. There was also one control group which did not have any intervention. The results have shown that those two groups who underwent meditation had a strong improvement on their cognition. Worse results were found with the group who underwent the relaxation program, and also with the control group.
Another study has shown the positive effect of meditation on cognition through the participation of seniors. 20 of them were those who have already had 10 years of yoga meditation experience. They took tests on short-term memory, psychomotoric tempo, attention, and executive functions. Their results were compared to those of seniors who did not meditate. The results of those who meditated were found to be significantly better than those who did not.
What else can help give improved cognition even as a person gets older?
Another effective method in maintaining good cognitive skills is supplementation, particularly with the herb Tongkat Ali. Tongkat Ali or Eurycoma Longifolia is an herb found in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and a few other Southeast Asian countries. Tongkat ali helps cognition by regulating blood pressure, sugar level, and cholesterol level, thus reduces risks of cognitive decline and dementia. It also has a lot of vitamins and minerals that keep the mind healthy. It also helps balance hormones and regulates the mood which help keep the brain young.