Meditation has existed as a form of mental training for thousands of years, but it’s only recently that psychologists and neuroscientists have discovered just how much of a change it can make in our lives.
Last year UCLA researchers found that those who had a long-term practice in meditation showed structural changes in parts of the brain associated with self-regulation and emotional processing.
They looked at brain scans and saw a process known as gyrification in the insula, the part of the brain that involves self-awareness. This process of gyrification is a “folding” of layers in the brain that enhances neural processing, improving the brain’s ability to process information, make decisions, and form memories.
And now, according to a study published in Conscious Cognition, meditation can also lead to changes in the expression of our genes.
Here’s a good summary of what they found:
“We assessed the whole genome gene expression analysis of long-term meditators in four separate trials and detected significant differential gene expression in association with higher states of consciousness. The number of differently expressed genes as well as high proportion of genes themselves differed between meditators. Despite this, gene ontology enrichment analysis found significant biological and molecular processes shared among meditators’ higher state of consciousness.”
This is just more evidence that meditation can make profound changes in who we really are. It also tells us that human nature may be a lot more flexible than we initially thought.
Epigenetics is the study of how gene expression can change based on our environment, habits, and experiences. As it turns out, different genes can turn “ON” or “OFF” based on the information we are receiving from our environment.
Meditation allows us to change this gene expression in a big way, by changing the fundamental building blocks of how we experience the world around us.
For those of us that already meditate, these drastic physical changes shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. But perhaps this evidence can motivate those who haven’t tried meditation to begin starting a steady practice.
My favorite beginner’s meditation is the 100 Breaths Meditation. The instructions to do it are incredibly simple, but it can be hard to master.
The basic idea is to focus all of your attention on your breathing and countdown after each breath from 100 to 0. With practice, you’ll soon be able to maintain focus without needing to countdown, but that will help get you started for now.
There are many different types of meditations: sound meditation, walking meditation, contemplative meditation, etc.
You can apply a “heightened sense of awareness” to nearly anything you do, but a “breathing meditation” is the most common and the easiest way to get started.
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