What’s one thing Sir Paul McCartney, Jerry Seinfeld, Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Jackman, Rupert Murdoch and Cameron Diaz have in common?
Apart from being incredibly rich and famous, the one thing these famous names all have in common is that they practice the ancient art of meditation. But is this just a coincidence, or is there something more to it?
Avid devotees of meditation – whether it’s of the Zen Buddhist, Transcendental, Vipassana, or Sahaja varieties — have always claimed the practice has legitimate health benefits, and can reduce stress, improve concentration and increase happiness. But now researchers are claiming it can actually change your brain, for the better.
According to a study released earlier this year by researchers at the University of California and Australian National University, long time meditators have less age-related loss of brain tissue than those who don’t meditate.
The study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the brains of 100 men and women aged 24 to 77, who had either been meditating for an average of 20 years or never before.
Results showed a decline in gray matter (the tissue where thinking occurs and memories are stored) in both groups over time, but found that long time meditators experienced smaller reductions in gray matter than those who did not meditate.
The researchers theorised that meditation might actually help conserve cerebral gray matter by reducing stress levels.
There is no hard evidence to suggest meditation can fight off age-related declines in thinking, or diseases like Parkinson’s or dementia, but a Harvard University study found that meditation increased cortical thickness in the hippocampus (the area of the brain that controls learning and memory).
It also found a decrease in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety and stress.
Sounds promising, but is meditation really the key to success?
Gayatri Phillips, manager of the Australian School of Meditation and Yoga in West End, says it depends on what your definition of success is.
“I think success is when you’re happy and at peace with yourself and meditation can definitely help you achieve that,” she says.
Gayatri believes meditation helps you mentally, physically and spiritually.
“If you’re practising on a regular basis, you’ll focus better, feel calmer and feel happier inside,” she insists.
“When you’re happy and peaceful in yourself you’ll have a more harmonious life and everything will get better.”
Practising meditator Dee Anderson says she has been meditating for seven months, and believes it’s already changed her life.
“I’ve found meditation allows me to be calmer and it has a wonderful ripple effect in all other areas of my life,” she says.
“Life seems less complicated and has more flow. Windows of opportunity pop up regularly and everything seems to fall into place.”
There’s no guarantee that meditation will turn you into the next Hollywood star or billionaire business mogul, then, but with all our lives being so incredibly busy and stressful, it probably couldn’t hurt.
Try taking a few minutes every day to relax, clear your head, and concentrate on your breathing. At the very least, it might take your mind off work for a few minutes…