There’s a growing body of scientific evidence that confirms the many benefits of meditation. These include improved cognitive function, stronger immune system, and lower stress and anxiety. Now, for the first time, scientists have discovered just how long we can expect some of these benefits to persist.
Is Rigorous Meditation Practice Worth the Effort?
It’s pretty clear that meditation is becoming a popular practice for anyone seeking optimal well-being. As a result, there is a plethora of meditation tools, workshops, online programs, etc. that promise to help one develop a consistent practice. But are they worth the time and effort? A new research study out of the University of California, Davis, suggests that yes, an intensive meditation practice may actually be a worthwhile undertaking.
UC Davis research scientist Clifford Saron and team published a study that reveals one can expect the effects of participating in an intensive meditation program to last for at least seven years. They published their report in Journal of Cognitive Enhancement.
The subjects of the study participated in at least one of two three-month retreats that offered full-time meditation training. The retreats took place at the Shambhala Mountain Center in 2007. Alan Wallace, a Buddhist scholar, headed up the gatherings and offered ongoing instruction during the retreats. Participants also practiced Buddhist mindfulness meditation for six hours per day.
In the initial study, the researchers were able to document the immediate benefits of meditation practice. These included the ability to deal with stress and improvements in sustaining attention. This recent report represents what the researchers discovered during the seven-year follow-up.
Specifically, the researchers wanted to understand if age-related cognitive decline can be impacted by an intensive meditation program. They followed up with 40 of the original retreat participants who continue a daily meditation practice.
Lead author of the study and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Miami, Anthony Zanesco, shares their findings:
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. (source)
Meditation versus Conventional Treatments
Consequently, the researchers determined that a meditation practice can have lasting effects on cognition. UC Davis researchers focused on people’s ability to remain attentive, but we can presume that other benefits of meditation are also long-lasting.
This is an important discovery because many conventional treatments for mental ailments seem to lack long-term efficacy. For example, pharmacological solutions for attention-deficit disorder often become less effective over time, requiring ever-increasing doses and eventually a change in medication. Furthermore, there are many unpleasant side effects.
With meditation, quite the opposite seems true. A precise meditation program followed by a consistent self-practice can build on itself. In the study, researchers stated that participants who continued to meditate for an hour a day “showed no signs of cognitive decline” after 7 years.
Additionally, instead of unpleasant side effects, there are often unexpected benefits. For example, people who meditate are likely to experience better sleep, clarity of mind, and improved general well-being.
There are many ways that one can immerse oneself into a powerful meditation program. One example is a 60-day meditation program by Synctuition that incorporates binaural beats technology and 3D sound to tap into intuitive awareness. In addition, there are likely various meditation workshops and retreats offered in your community. Just check with some of the yoga studios in your town, or even at a local university.
Finally, if you don’t think that you need any guidance, then you can start just by pursuing a meditation practice on your own. Just remember that to build consistency, it’s often worth to make an extra commitment by signing up for a program or group event. It creates accountability, which can help develop a consistent practice.
By Anna Hunt
Anna Hunt is writer, yoga instructor, mother of three, and lover of healthy food. She’s the founder of Awareness Junkie, an online community paving the way for better health and personal transformation. She’s also the co-editor at Waking Times, where she writes about optimal health and wellness. Anna spent 6 years in Costa Rica as a teacher of Hatha and therapeutic yoga. She now teaches at Asheville Yoga Center and is pursuing her Yoga Therapy certification. During her free time, you’ll find her on the mat or in the kitchen, creating new kid-friendly superfood recipes.
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