Meditation is a way for some to tune out all the stress and noise of daily life and calm the mind. There has been some research on how it affects the brain, and the most recent study shows that even years after training study subjects in meditation, the benefits remain.
The study was published in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement. The results show how the Shamatha Project, an investigatory study into the cognitive and biological benefits of meditation led by a team of neuroscientists at the University of California, Davis changed the way participants thought.
Anthony Zanesco is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Miami and first author of the work. He started with the project when he was still a Ph.D. student at UC Davis. He explained, "This study is the first to offer evidence that intensive and continued meditation practice is associated with enduring improvements in sustained attention and response inhibition, with the potential to alter longitudinal trajectories of cognitive change across a person's life."
The Shamatha Project is an extensive study that looked at intensive meditation training over the course of several years. It's garnered attention from scientists as well as Buddhist practitioners worldwide. The Dalai Lama has endorsed the project for its validity and comprehensive investigation of the benefits of advanced meditation. It includes 60 experienced meditators who went to one of two three month long meditation retreats in Colorado in 2007. These retreats were taught by well-known Buddhist scholar and teacher B. Alan Wallace. Wallace oversees the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies. The retreats in 2007 involved intensive instruction from Wallace in group sessions every day, as well as hours of private meditation and contemplation.
When the retreats were first completed, participants underwent cognitive testing as well as mental health evaluations which showed that the practice of meditation improved the ability of subjects to sustain attention for more extended periods of time. The study subjects also showed improvements in cognitive skills and general mental well-being and coping skills. Since 2007, many of the participants have continued to be followed to assess if these benefits could last over the long-term.
Follow up contact was made with participants six months after the retreat, 18 months after and, most recently, seven years after the project began. A total of 40 participants remain in the study and all report that they still practice meditation in some form. The average was about an hour a day of some meditation practice.
The gains in attentional ability, as well as cognition, remained in the participants who were more dedicated to their practice. Among the volunteers who were older, those that practiced more hours of meditation had sharper mental skills than similarly aged peers who did not practice as diligently. Normal signs of aging and typical age-related cognitive decline were not as pronounced in these patients compared to what would be expected based on chronological age.
The influence of personality and lifestyle may have contributed to the results, and the authors of the study were careful to stress that in the paper. They noted that those who meditate regularly usually have healthier diets and habits, along with their mental fitness. The gains made after the retreats leveled out for most, so there is a limit to how much meditation can do to improve aging and mental health, but the fact remains that it's a legitimate way to enhance cognition and memory over the long haul. Check out the video to learn more.