Meditation can support a healthy brain and limit age related cognitive decline.
Help shape your own future
The brain reacts to everything it comes into contact with, this includes stimulus from the senses and internal processes such as those created during meditation. Recent scientific studies indicate that brain structure and function can be positively meditated by methods such as Brain Renewal Meditation (BRM).
One of the big deals with cognitive decline is we don’t really understand how it works. There is of course an inevitability that human brain performance must eventually decline, it is unrealistic to assume brain structure can remain intact for eternity. But as a command and control system the human brain is unrivaled in the universe. We are currently unable to count the billions of neurons in a human brain, and mankind still doesn’t have the computing power to run a biologically reliable digital simulation of our brain, even if such a model could be created. What we do know is that the brain is able to develop new function and structure (plasticity) and there is some evidence that new neurons can be generated in the adult hippocampus (neurogenesis).
The ability of the brain to restructure makes understanding brain aging particularly problematic. Structures are continually changing, new functions require support and obsolete functions can fall into decay. These changes take place against a backdrop of an incalculable amount of stimulus, almost everything we experience or think about can have an impact on the brain. The average rate in the reduction of human cognitive function is generally referred to age related cognitive decline. The factors linked to ‘typical’ rates of decline are still not fully understood and the nuanced way that structures change and interact is far from clear.
The idea that from the age of thirty adults lose a little bit more of cognitive function every year is completely wrong. Whilst cognitive decline is correlated with age, regional and global improvements in brain function during middle and old age have been observed.
From the point of view of meditation, we know from traditional sources and modern science that certain forms of meditation exert an effect on different regions of the human brain. Long term meditators have been found to have ‘younger’ brains than non meditators and meditation is also associated with increased cortical thickness. Meditation is not the only way of maintaining or increasing brain health but it is one of the oldest and most reliably established. The message is pretty simply, if you want to maintain or improve brain age or brain health think very seriously about meditation.
The key to successful meditation. You! Your motivation is key to Brain Renewal Training.
Taking control of your brain
There is no cliche’ or slogan I can use that will persuade you to take better care of your brain, it’s all about you. This website can simply explain what is known on the subject and share appropriate brain training meditation methods. For meditation to be effective the desire to achieve optimum brain health must be developed and nurtured in each of us.
There is no compulsion implied, I write about and teach Brain Renewal meditation (BRM) only for people that want the benefits of a younger, healthier brain. Many people are happy to allow nature to take its course and allow their genes to decide the way their brain ages, that is a legitimate and common choice. Problem is it’s not that simple, the way we live, how we think, where we go and what we do will all influence our brain’s structure and function. Our genes are only one factor in brain aging, the evidence indicates that making small but important changes in our daily life will greatly benefit long term brain health.
It is this ability to choose one path over another that rests at the heart of brain health. Our brain is designed to help us, its sole function is to follow our commands. This may sound self evident but it is an idea which is often absent from much of contemporary scientific thinking. In psychology for example, meditation research rarely pays sufficient attention to the motivation of meditators, preferring to allow the method of meditation to be the dominant object of research. It’s a great challenge for psychology because meditation is ultimately about what you do with your mind, not how you sit, what you say and the expression on your face. And so with BRM the first question you should ask yourself is, do you want to maintain optimum cognitive function? Only then should the methods gain any real importance.
There is an enduring paradigm in cognitive psychology, that cognitive decline is age related. That there is a ‘natural’ reduction in brain structure and function from the late 20s onward. This seems kind of intuitive at first sight, older people do appear to suffer from ongoing cognitive decline, just look at our parents and grandparents. However this view is contradicted by the research, certain lifestyle choices are consistently linked to cognitive decline and attenuation in brain structure. At best our chronological age is one of several factors correlated with how our brain will be working in middle and old age.
How can we explain those individuals that appear to enjoy near peak cognitive performance into their 70s, 80s and 90s? Sir Jonathan Miller (originally a neurology specialist) is just one of many examples.
After many years of study and practice the first question I ask new meditation students is “why to do want to meditate?”. Most of the benefit you are likely to get from meditation will be linked to this question, meditation isn’t primarily about me or the science, it’s about you!
Evidence indicates that brain structure and function can be maintained and augmented through particular forms of meditation.
Taking responsibility is the key to brain health
In recent decades psychology and neuroscience have made progress in explaining brain functions and dysfunctions. But we still know far too little about how the human brain ages. In studies linked to meditation and mindfulness the vast majority of research (I’d estimate in excess of 80%) has been undertaken with participants under the age of 25. There is some research interest in people of retirement age and with people suffering from particular health problems. But if you trawl the academic databases for investigations of the effects of meditation on people in the 30 to 65 age range you will find relatively few studies and even fewer reliable conclusions. The irony of this lack of research is that this is the age at which cognitive decline is supposed to happen (from the early 30’s onward). It’s also supposed that dementia typically starts its journey in middle age, perhaps decades before the full symptoms manifest.
A concept that can be found throughout psychology and neuroscience is ‘age related cognitive decline’; the general correlation between age and brain function/structure. It is a pretty uncontroversial idea, we all carry around the stereotype that as we get older we can expect to experience ‘senior moments’, a lowering in cognitive ability. I’m not going to dispute that this does appear to be the pattern. But my experience of meditation is that the rate of cognitive decline is flexible. I’ve seen the transformation in people’s ability to think, problem solve and remember. There is also some evidence from neuroscience to support the premise that decline in cognitive function can be influenced by a range of activities, meditation in particular. This is not to say that meditation may keep your brain forever young, rather that you have a degree of control over how your own brain ages.
Whilst certain forms of meditation do appear to be linked to improved cognitive function, the neuroscience is at a preliminary stage. It’s clear that different forms of meditation have different effects, and meditation isn’t the only thing we can we can do to influence the development of brain function and structure. It should always be considered that just as some activities appear to support brain rejuvenation, others have the opposite effect. Anyone over the age of 30 is likely to benefit from maintaining, and where possible increasing cognitive function, meditation however is a cornerstone of this process. Keeping your body in good shape takes some time, effort and commitment, this is also true of mind training
Mindfulness researchers and practitioners from across the south east are being invited to a one day free event by the Eastern ARC and the University of Kent. The day will be structured in two parts, the morning will be given over to presentations explaining the applications of contemporary mindfulness in different contexts. The afternoon sessions will be workshop driven, focusing on skills training.
The event is free, will be based in Keynes College in Canterbury and is open to students, staff, and external partners.
Like to run? Want to learn mindfulness? A four week course starts this weekend in the Medway towns.
This weekend will see the start of the four week Mindfulness for Runners course in Chatham Kent.
The course will take place at Fort Amhurst, under the guidance of two experienced and qualified meditation teachers Stuart McLeod and Cesare Saguato. The innovative programme has been designed to;
immerse participants in a range of mindfulness skills and practices and their application to running. Participants will be required to commit to a programme of home practice between sessions to support their learning. Session notes will be provided at the end of each meeting including links to recordings of guided meditations.
The course is accessible to runners and meditators of different levels. However all participants should be able to run 5km without frequent stops.
More details, costs, terms and conditions are available from the runzen.co.uk website.
September will welcome a leading international Meditation Master to Rochester.
A leading Tibetan Meditation Master, Ringu Tulku Rinpoche will be giving an evening lecture in Rochester this September. The reknown Buddhist teacher, is a former translator to HH the 14th Dali Lama and the founder of the Bodhicharya movement
Rinpoche will be giving public lectures (open to all) on the 24th and 25th September, 7:00pm – 9:00pm, Corn Exchange, Northgate, 51-55 Rochester High Street, Kent, ME1 1LS. More details from bodhicharya-kent.org.
Ethical consumerism. New vegan and vegetarian market in Canterbury, Kent.
I wanted to share the news that a new weekly vegan market is being set up in Canterbury. From the 1st of July 2018 the Kent Vegan Market will convene on the first Sunday of each month. The venue is the North Lane Car Park and the market will open at 11am and close at 4pm. For more details visit the Kent Vegan Festival Facebook page.
As our own network contains many people engaged in compassionate practice, the level of suffering experienced by both humans and animals is an object of positive concern. Non dual compassion isn’t about taking the weight of universal suffering on our own shoulders, rather to start to integrate care for others in a practical and sustainable way. There are many reasons why people may choose not to become vegan or vegetarian. But for anyone interested in compassion for self and other, spending a few moments thinking about the impact of what we eat is probably time well spent.
Compassionate consumerism need not be radical. Any attempt to support the environment, encourage ethical, kind and sustainable consumption is a useful activity.
For more information about veganism you can visit the Vegan society.