One of Mother’s favorite things to say about me is that I’d lose my head if it weren’t fastened on. Indeed, I am the forgetful type. Nary a week doth pass in which I don’t lose my car keys. And, a few years ago, I noticed it was getting worse. Around the time I lost my glasses and found them on my head – twice within the span of an hour – I decided it was time to take action. I started drinking coffee regularly (although research indicating that helps has since lost its luster). I also began making a point of doing the Sunday Times crossword every week and reading more often.
Is it all working? Mostly, yes, beside the fact that I haven’t seen my car keys in two days, which is problematic because I’m going to need to pick my daughter up from school eventually, but I’m starting to wonder if I’m doing it right. It occurs to me that I’ve left out an important part of the brain fitness equation.
I went to a guided meditation yesterday. (My friend Omar drove. He never loses his keys.) It was fairly revelatory. I’m constantly preaching the gospel of rest and recover for muscles. They won’t grow if they’re not given the space to rebuild. The brain should be no different. And to back this up, I just stumbled across this study out of Massachusetts General Hospital.
Participating in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. In a study that will appear in the January 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, a team led by MGH researchers report the results of their study, the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s grey matter.
“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says Sara Lazar, PhD, of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, the study’s senior author. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”
The study participants did mindfulness exercises for about 27 minutes a day. That’s a bit rich for my time-management blood at this point, but I do plan on committing to 5-10 minutes a day and seeing where I go with that. Although I can reach a mindful state while surfing or doing yoga, calming my thoughts while being physically inactive is something I’ve never been able to do without the aid of The Cartoon Network. I’ll probably try a few methods and see what works. One trick is to count your breaths, starting over once you reach 10. The idea is that if you find yourself counting up past ten, you’re not focusing on your breath and you’ve let your mind wander.
Another one I like has to do with focusing on what the Buddhists call the “Root Mind,” but I’m a little hesitant to share that one with you, given I recently wrote this article about the Tao Te Ching and was ruthlessly attacked by readers and accused of being a “Recruiting Agent of Taoism” – which is a very real concern, should you choose to embrace Eastern philosophy in your meditation. After all, we’re all aware of the bloody, violent swaths of oppression that Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism have ripped across history. Don’t mess with the Zen-minded, man, lest they throw down some serious karma on your ass.
Anyway, I digress, and that’s exactly why I need to meditate more, so that I can keep that focus throughout the day.
Also, I’d really like to know where my car keys are.brain, coffee, meditation, Taoism's bloody reign of terror