Does Meditating Help Your Brain?

The myth: Meditating helps your brain. True or false? Mike Dawson has the answer.

India --- An Indian yogi covered in ashes sits in typical cross-legged posture. --- Image by © Johnston and Hoffman/National Geographic Society/Corbis

Photo: Corbis

Chances are, meditating and chanting are not on your list of ways to de-stress.

You're not alone.

To many of us, meditating is something our ideal selves would do if we had the time. Another hurdle is getting the right training. (If you're sitting on the floor by your lonesome and chanting, you can feel pretty ridiculous in a hurry if you don't know what you're doing.) And let's be honest, many people think meditating is just a form of relaxation—that you net the same benefit after a workout, sex, massage, or tipping a third glass of rye.

Well, it turns out meditating for mere minutes may do more than just clear your head: It could be the quickest and most effective way to protect your body from the deadly damages caused by stress. The reason stress is deadly (cancer, hypertension, heart disease, etc.) is that it weakens the immune system. But researchers from Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior at UCLA found that stressed adults who practiced regular sessions of basic Kirtan Kriya meditation lowered, and in some cases reversed, stress-related damage to their immune systems.

Kirtan Kriya, which essentially involves chanting a few Sanskrit syllables and using certain finger poses, is super easy to master. And to reap the body-boosting benefits you need only do it for 12 minutes at a time. Another bonus: Separate research has shown it can improve your memory; it's currently being prescribed to early-stage Alzheimer patients.

You still need to eat well and work out, but mix in meditation a few days a week and you'll be smarter, more relaxed, and wield a stronger shield.

— Dawson is a magazine writer and editor, and a regular contributor to Details.

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