When you are daydreaming toward the end of a two-hour lecture, deep breathing is probably the last thing on your mind. Turns out, it may be the best thing for it.
A recent study by the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain (UCDCM) found that intensive meditation training resulted in heightened visual perception and increased attention spans. These results represent the first detailed study of meditation’s effects on physiology and mental and emotional states.
Meditation may clear up mental resources, allowing individuals to focus their attention for greater lengths of time, said Clifford Saron, study author and associate research scientist at the UCDCM. Those who meditate may also notice more subtle visual changes that others miss.
“One would hope that intensive meditation doesn’t just make you better at meditation,” said Katherine MacLean, UC Davis graduate student and co-author of the study. “Rather, you are practicing skills that can be applied in other situations in everyday life.”
Thirty men and women of different backgrounds participated in the three-month study, during which they engaged in six hours of meditation daily. They were given tests at the beginning, middle and end of the experiment, which required long increments of uninterrupted attention. Midway through the study’s duration, meditators were able to make more minute visual distinctions than members of a control group taking the same tests.
When retested five months after the study ended, those who had kept up meditation practice continued to show additional improvements. These results indicate long-range benefits of mediation.
According to the journal Psychology Today, practicing meditation offers additional health benefits. Neuroscientists have found that those who meditate shift their brain activity to different areas of the cortex, decreasing the negative effects of stress, depression and anxiety. The Mayo Clinic also reports that meditation may help conditions such as depression, high blood pressure, sleeping problems and asthma.
Though he acknowledged that most people can’t devote as much time to mediation as the study participants, Saron noted that other studies with more casual practice schedules yielded similar results.
The Shambhala Meditation Center, located at 133 D Street in downtown Davis, offers free meditation instruction every Sunday at 9 a.m. and Thursdays at 7 p.m. On May 31, the center will host a free class entitled “Introduction to Meditation and Shambhala” from 7 to 8 p.m., which features a guided practice and time for questions.
MacLean emphasized the importance of thinking of meditation as a quest, with beginning to practice being the starting point.
“Try to keep an open mind,” she advised. “You may not like the first meditation you try, or the first teacher you learn from, but you’ll hopefully end up stumbling upon some meditation practices that help you focus a little better, stay a little calmer and relate better to the people around you.”
MEGAN MURPHY can be reached at email@example.com.