Meditation would slow down the aging of the cerebral cortex and improve brain performance, as well as our management of emotions. Provided you practice enough, for many years! But regular practice can already soothe stressed minds…
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What action on the brain?
According to research published Monday, August 16, 2010, in the United States, just eleven hours of practice of a meditation technique based on traditional Chinese medicine can improve brain function.
The technique called “integrated gymnastics of body and mind” (IBMT, for “integrative body-mind training“) improves brain connectivity by boosting the functioning of an area of the brain that helps a person adjust their behavior according to what they want to achieve, explain the authors of the study published in the Annals of the American Academy. Sciences (PNAS).
L’IBMT was adapted from traditional Chinese medicine in the 1990s in China, where thousands of people practice it. It is currently taught to students at the University of Oregon (northwestern United States).
The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging techniques to observe the fibers connecting the different areas of the brain before and after a meditation technique training.
These observations showed changes in brain connectivity after six hours of IBMT practice, the effects of which become clear after twelve hours of exercise, the researchers report. They specify that they observed no change in the control group that did not practice IBMT. The changes were most evident in an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate convolution, which regulates emotions and behavior.
In 2017, another study showed an effect on cerebral aging, at the rate of 15,000 to 30,000 hours of active meditation of the people included. Meditation led to a reduction in stress, anxiety, negative emotions and sleep problems.
Note that these studies relate to few people (43 and 75).
The effects of meditation
The meditation is an ancestral spiritual practice of Eastern origin. At the center of Buddhist culture, it was secularized in the 1970s by American psychologists.
In 1979, medical professor Jon Kabat-Zinn developed a meditation learning program in eight weeks called MBSR: “Mindfulness based stress reduction”, literally the “mindfulness-based stress reduction“. Since then, meditation has established itself within the medical community, first of all in the United States and today in France. Morale, stress, concentration, chronic pain, meditation would have many health benefits and proven effects on our brain.
The thick layer of neurons tends to shrink as we age. Meditation would slow down this decrease and at the same time brain aging. Signals circulate from neuron to neuron, they transmit information through their connections. Meditation would facilitate the creation of new connections. Information flows better inside the brain. People who meditate recover them more easily and learn new things better because their brain is more efficient. On the other hand, they would also adapt more easily and would be better mood.
Another effect attributed to meditation: a effect on the management of emotions. They are processed in both hemispheres of the brain: positive emotions in the left part of our brain and negative emotions in the right. In people practicing meditation, the territory of positive emotions encroaches on that of negative emotions. For all these reasons, the meditation gained more and more followers.
An anti-stress technique above all
For some years the meditation traded in her image traditionally associated with religion for that of a anti-stress technique fashionable. Result: we can now learn to meditate in relaxation centers far from any religious reference.
The objective of the group sessions is to recreate conditions conducive to the perception of one’s body. Relax and focus on the present moment. A harder exercise than it looks.
Sessions usually last one hour. Exercises may vary depending on each group and individual preferences. “Many people come to meditate to get out of a hectic daily life where there is a lot of hubbub, pressure, noise and so they come to seek a space of peace and silence, of calm… More rarely, people come to make a work of self-knowledge, a work of deeper exploration. The two are linked“, explains François Fournier, meditation teacher.
Beyond its relaxing aspect, meditation made its appearance twenty years ago in the medical field. The MBCT method (mindfulness-based therapy) for example is based on meditation sessions to avoid depressive relapses. Developed in North America, it has been spreading in France for some time.
The MBCT method, mindfulness-based therapy is still little known. It borrows many elements from traditional relaxation methods such as yoga or zen in order to prevent episodes of stress, anxiety or depression.
Whether it has a medical or relaxing vocation, to be effective, the meditation practice should be frequent. And ideally, daily. It is not essential but many methods are commercially available in the form of audio books to enable you to meditate at home. All it takes is a little calm. And if you’re short on time, know that ten minutes can be enough to meditate quietly at your own pace.
Meditation and cancer
In addition to their treatments, to better live with the disease, the meditation increasingly offered to cancer patients. Since 2011, the Essonne Cancer League offers meditation sessions for the sick.
In remission or still undergoing treatment, all participants were affected by cancer. “The mindfulness meditation allows these people to recover physically because there is a lot of fatigue with treatments, chemo… Then meditation allows them to find themselves with their body and to find parts of their body that are not in pain“, explains Nadine Germain, instructor “Mindfulness meditation”.
If meditation is still little known to patients, they very quickly find an interest in it. Participants can also meditate dynamically and the exercises are adapted to the state of health of each participant. Over the course of the meditation sessions, the patients feel a feeling of physical and moral well-being.
Group sessions are still underdeveloped. But the interest of meditation is that each participant can meditate alone when he feels the need.
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The benefits of meditation
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