The science behind hitting pause on life is stacking up faster than you can say, ‘Have you seen my rose quartz?’
1 BREATH WORKS Mind racing faster than Lewis Hamilton? Just breathe. No, really. ‘Taking time to focus on the sensations of the breath seems to connect the heart to the head,’ says Dr Daniel Siegel, clinical professor at UCLA and author of Aware: The Science And Practice Of Presence. ‘It lowers the heart rate and reduces levels of cortisol, making you feel less stressed.’ Sounds like Blu Cantrell was on to something…
2 BETA BLOCKER Focusing on the present is thought to reduce beta brainwaves (the ones active when you’re charging through your to-do list in the shower). But Norwegian researchers* who studied the brainwaves of people who were meditating found a high presence of theta waves (a gateway to learning, memory and intuition) and alpha waves (linked with creativity). A study on Tibetan monks even found gamma waves*, which are linked with a heightened state of consciousness. Beta that.
3 GREY MATTERS While the brain is programmed to wander, constant mind drifting is associated with lower levels of happiness. But research into the brains of experienced meditators reveals less activity in the posterior cingulate cortex* – the part of the brain associated with selfmonitoring and cognitive control – revealing a higher ability to focus on the here and now. In the words of a cheesy greetings card, the present is a gift.
4 BRAIN GAINS Don’t get bigheaded now – but meditation can make your brain grow. Studies on meditation aficionados have found a thickening of the hippocampus* – the part of the brain associated with learning, cognition and memory – and more growth and folds in the cerebral cortex, which leads to faster brain processing and memory formation. And don’t you forget it.
5 CELLULAR RESPONSE Living in the present could make for a better future. As well as being thought to stave off Alzheimer’s*, regular meditation is associated with a stronger immune system and general cardiovascular health. ‘Meditation improves cellular health and longevity by boosting the enzyme telomerase, which repairs and maintains the ends of chromosomes,’ says Dr Siegel. Worth a ponder.