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The Benefits of Meditation

New research shows that meditating can enhance brain function no matter what your age

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The veteran meditators showed greater skill at choosing what to focus on among competing stimuli than either of the other groups, and were better able to filter distractions to remain focused.

These findings suggest that meditation may be useful in treating people with ADHD, and for improving cognition and other attention-based functions that slow as we age.

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin studied the brains of participants before and after they received eight weeks of MBSR training and compared them with those of a group of nonmeditators.

At the end of the training, the subjects received flu shots and their antibody activity was tested. The meditators show elevated activity in the area of the brain associated with lowered anxiety, a decrease in negative emotions, an increase in positive ones and their immune systems produced more antibodies in response to the vaccine.

In other words, there may be a strong link among meditation, positive emotions and a healthier immune system. The potential implications of these findings for our health, mood and behavior are great.

As Dr. Richard Davidson once said, "We now know that the brain is the one organ in our body built to change in response to experience and training. It's a learning machine."

Meditation, it seems, is a good way to keep that machine in motion.

Sharon Salzberg is cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society and the author of Real Happiness: The Power of Mediation.

Learn How to Meditate

  1. Sit in any position that's comfortable for you; a chair is fine. Sit with either your eyes open slightly, or closed — you can experiment with both. Or, if you'd prefer, you can lie down.

  2. Start with a 5-minute session, and then gradually increase to 20 minutes if you wish. Many people set an alarm, so that they don't have to think about how long the session has gone.

  3. Start by just feeling your breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils. You don't need to adjust the breath to make it deeper or finer: simply notice it as it is and as it changes.

  4. Sometimes thoughts or emotions come up and sweep us away, or we fall asleep. Know that your mind will wander, just notice where it went and then gently bring it back to the breath — every time, over and over.

  5. Above all, have patience with yourself. The more you practice meditation, the easier it gets to stay focused. So don't get discouraged by your wandering mind. Eventually, it will get easier to return to concentrating on your breathing.

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