The benefits of meditation are far-reaching, and researchers have already identified a number of patently positive effects that meditation can have on the human brain. So naturally, many of us wonder if improved memory is one of those fringe benefits. And the answer is… YES! A number of studies carried out by neuroscientists have confirmed that there is a clear link between meditation practice and enhanced memory. While some of the better-known studies focused on observing the brain functions of Tibetan monks as they meditated, you don’t have to be a monk or nun to discover meditation. Virtually anyone – children, seniors, and everyone in between – can put mindfulness meditation techniques into practice and enjoy the benefits, including improved memory and ability to focus.
Meditation for memory
One study conducted by researchers in Boston found that frequent meditation seemed to bolster the cerebral cortex of its subjects’ brains. The cortex deals with mental functions such as learning, concentration and memory. Regular meditation increases blood flow to the brain, which leads to a stronger network of blood vessels in the cerebral cortex and reinforces memory capacity. One study that was published by a reputable cognition journal indicated that meditating for 20 minutes a day boosts memory and concentration.
According to a study cited in the Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Journal, “Meditation training can enhance various cognitive processes, such as emotional regulation, executive control and attention, particularly sustained attention.” Bingo!
But what kind of meditation?
There are simple meditation techniques that seem to be linked to improved memory, cognition and discernment. For example:
- Mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness is a technique that allows us to gain a deep, non-judgmental awareness of our feelings, sensations and emotions. Mindfulness helps us focus on one particular subject at a time and instills a deep sense of appreciation for the present moment. Research has shown that mindfulness increases the density of the hippocampus, a part of the brain connected to memory and learning. It also improved self-awareness, introspection and compassion among meditators who participated in an 8-week meditation regimen.
Simply put, mindfulness meditation (even when practiced a few minutes each day) changes brain structure. Those areas that are responsible for helping us remember things more vividly, focus better and improve self-awareness are boosted. By the same token, areas responsible for stress and anxiety are reduced. A very convincing article called “Eight weeks to a better brain” that appeared in The Harvard Gazette spells out some of the benefits we can expect from meditation.
- Awareness meditation
Meditation teachers agree that all forms of meditation can be beneficial. A lot happens when we sit down to meditate – we become aware of deep-seated emotions, gain a refreshing appreciation for the present moment and even learn how to better cope with grief and loss. Meditation scholar Khenpo Dharma Mitra adds that working on our minds helps us to maintain a positive perspective towards life, helping us to bring out our joy, love and humanity.
Once we’re familiar with mindfulness, we can use this as a basis for another type of practice: awareness meditation. Meditation teacher Bart Mendel suggests that awareness meditation takes mindfulness a step further: our enhanced self-awareness is harnessed so we can learn more about how the mind works, make better-informed choices and react to challenging situations in a more thoughtful manner.
Will this directly improve your memory? As far as we know, there haven’t been any reliable studies that prove one way or the other. What we do know is that awareness meditation gives us tools that help us live a wholesome and constructive life, and this naturally reduces stress and anxiety. Lower levels of stress and anxiety have clearly been linked to improved cognitive functions such as memory.