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Meditate to Stop the Decline of Your Grey Matter

Meditation can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, diminish the risk of strokes, and decrease the symptoms of old age.

It seems there are studies almost every year that continue to support these claims. Techniques are taught at more than 200 hospitals around the country to assist patients to combat stress. Do you have a busy mind? Perhaps a meditation technique could ease your aging experience.

Michael Haederle wrote about a certified nurse practitioner, Barbara Krause, who tried the practice to test the theories herself: "the science on meditation now says the ancient practice can actually cause physical changes in the brain that protect us as we age." "Scientists have been studying these changes in people who practice the kind of basic meditation that focuses on sensory awareness and breathing."AARP Bulletin, 2013

Barbara Krause took an eight-week course to learn how to tune out the mind's internal chatter. She connected with her breathing. She continues to sit to breathe for 20 minutes in meditation several times a week. "It was a wonderful experience," said Barbara Krause. "I'm very much a novice, but I'm enthused." — AARP Bulletin, 2013

"Neuroplasticity" — the idea that the things on which we focus our brains can reshape them.

People successfully use meditation for stress, chronic pain and high blood pressure. Neuroscientists also are uncovering brain changes. Meditation is stress busting and could protect our cells from age-associated damage.

Disciplined repetition of redirecting your attention seems to drive the brain changes found in brain imaging studies. If we focus our attention, there are ways in which we can stop the decline of grey matter in the parts of the brain affecting motor skills and learning.

Other studies abound in this same direction:

"A Harvard Medical School team reported in 2008 that it found these beneficial changes in the genes of people who regularly practiced meditation, yoga and other relaxation-inducing routines."

"Emory University scientists found in 2007 that those who meditated regularly seemed to avoid some normal age-related decline of gray matter in a part of the brain that helps control motor skills and learning."

"Joshua Grant, a scientist at the University of Montreal, has shown that longtime Zen meditators are less sensitive to pain than control subjects—and it may be because they have a thicker layer of gray matter in the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region known to be involved in processing pain. Heightened or sustained brain activity may cause the cortex (gray matter) to get thicker, just as working out a muscle would make the muscle bigger."

"For three years, from 2005 to 2008, Zeidan tested the pain sensitivity of some small groups of college undergraduates at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He then gave them simple mindfulness instructions and had them practice for 20 minutes at a time on three consecutive days. He found that the students had a higher tolerance for pain than when they started."

"In recent years, clinical psychologists have used this insight to develop mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which has proved effective for helping people deal with anxiety and depression. It has even been shown to prevent a recurrence of depression."

Sharon Salzberg, in her article on the benefits of meditation, explains that research does show meditation can enhance brain function as you age, "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."AARP Bulletin, 2011

Here are the basics of her meditation suggestions:

Sit in a position comfortable for you. Experiment with eyes open or closed. Or lie down.

Start with 5 minutes and increase to 20 minutes gradually. If you wish you can set an alarm to end your session in order to avoid thinking about the time.

Feel your breath as it enters and leaves your nose. No need to adjust it, just notice it and how it changes.

When your mind wanders, and other thoughts come up, notice where it went and gently bring it back to the breath.

Be patient with yourself and your wandering mind. The more you practice the easier it gets. When your mind wanders, it will become easier to bring it back as you practice more over time.

Meditation is often associated with various religious practices. It is not a religion. Anyone can do this. Adopting a "mindful" attitude can change everything. Keep your mind in the present and do not less stress enter it. Stress comes from the way we look at things and think about them.

"Last year, researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital published a study in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging showing that engaging in a mindfulness meditation program for eight weeks is linked with changes in the memory, empathy, stress and sense of self regions of the brain. "This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing," study researcher Sara Lazar, Ph.D., of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program" — Huffington Post, 2012 

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