Meditation has a profound effect on the brain, calms emotions, boosts cognition and can help treat a range of mental illnesses.
The essence of meditation is to train oneself to be as aware as possible of as little as possible.
Unlike brain training, meditation is increasingly being shown to have profound effects on thought, emotions, and the brain.
For instance, long-term meditators have a shrunken amygdala, a brain region associated with anxiety or fear, and an enlarged prefrontal cortex, connected with our highest forms of cognitive processing and intelligence.
Long-term meditators also appear somewhat protected from dementia, which makes sense given that meditation causes brain regions linked to complex thought and memory to grow instead of shrink.
Activity in the prefrontal cortex can also become more efficient through meditation so that less activity is needed to perform optimally on a given task. In line with this, long-term meditation improves a range of attentional, working memory and spatial processing tasks.
Perception also appears changed, with experienced meditators being able to detect fainter stimuli and being less influenced by certain visual illusions.
Meditation even reduces the need for sleep.
Due to its stress-reducing properties, meditation is increasingly being used as a clinical tool, relieving symptoms of chronic pain, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and other conditions.
Find out more:
Neuroscientist Sara Lazar carried out important studies linking meditation with brain changes.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is a pioneer of applying meditation to clinical populations.