Madonna, Oprah and LeBron James have one thing in common, which they credit to helping in their success. What’s their secret? All these super achievers are committed to daily meditation. LeBron credits meditation for his extraordinary accomplishments, Madonna described her practice as having shown her how much energy silence has, and Oprah flat out praised meditation for changing her life.
And it’s not just celebrities. Those who are devoted to their daily “meds” will vow that this simple practice has a noticeable effect on their overall well-being in a short amount of time. The popularity of meditation apps like Headspace and Calm are a testament to that, helping millions of people commit to the ritual of sitting still and focusing on the breath.
So, can something as simple as 10 minutes of sitting in silence a day have an impact on your life? When it comes to focus and feeling more present, there’s a lot of evidence that points to yes. There’s been numerous studies over the years that examine how meditation impacts the brain and the benefits behind it. One in particular, which was published last year in Nature, found that meditation had the potential to enhance focus and attention.
The science behind meditation
The study, titled Longitudinal effects of meditation on brain resting-state functional connectivity, enlisted people with no previous meditation experience who had enrolled in a university meditation course. They practiced focused attention meditation for more than two months, twice a week in class and on their own at home, five times a week, for 10 minutes per session. The students had their brains scanned before and after the meditation sessions.
In short, the study found that daily meditation increases functional connectivity of brain networks. At the end of the two month training program, there were noticeable changes to the participants’ brains. Specifically, there were increases in the functional connectivity within the Dorsal Attention Network (DAN), the network in the brain that focuses attention, and is regularly activated in relation to other active brain networks.
The study also found increases in functional connectivity between the DAN and the Default Mode Network as well as increased functional connectivity between the Default Mode Network and the visual cortex.
Getting the most out of mental performance
Sean Grabowski, a corporate mindfulness teacher based in Vancouver, describes what meditation does to the brain in simpler terms. “Sitting down and intentionally using your focus, strengthens the grey matter in the brain,” he says. “It thickens the connections, it makes the connections fire a little quicker sometimes.”
Grabowski came to mindfulness after an accident derailed his plans to pursue snowboarding professionally. He found when he sat down to meditate, it gave him the most relief in his recovery. He stresses that you don’t get the full mental benefits unless you meditate regularly. Once Grabowski got in the habit of meditating daily, he immediately noticed his sleep improve, along with his focus. His anxiety felt more manageable too. “If you’re doing bicep curls at the gym, six months down the line, you can pick up the same weight with a lot less energy. It’s the same concept with the brain,” he says. “You can do the same cognitive stuff you used to do, but your brain is a little more resilient and stronger and can handle things with less energy so you have more energy left to get through the day.”
Realizing a spiritual essence
While science shows the positive impact meditation has on the brain, there are other transcendent benefits that can happen if you’re open to them.
Madhavendra Lobel, who founded and runs the Toronto-based non-profit yogameditation.ca, first discovered meditation in Australia. After she started practicing a little bit a day, she noticed a difference in how she felt. So she started doing it more. Now, it’s become a big part of her life in a path to spiritual enlightenment. Lobel says that not only can daily meditation make you feel good, it can purify your mind and consciousness.
“It gets to the point where we actually realize our spiritual essence and we’re not just these material bodies,” she says. “We’re not just these pains that come from these spiritual bodies. We are able to detach from that.”
She stresses that daily meditation isn’t only about “laying down and thinking about trees”, but is in fact a deep philosophy that’s been practiced for thousands of years. “It’s not something that can be learned over night,” she says. “But once you start practicing, you start having realizations. It’s helped me immeriably.”
A big takeaway from her practice has been detachment. She uses the example of a lotus flower, blooming through the muck. “It still remains beautiful and pristine,” she says. “Even though we might be in all the muck of the material world, we’re not affected by it.”
“It’s not about hippies sitting on a mountainside”
For Grabowski, daily meditation has also become more than a practice. He eventually started teaching meditation classes at his marketing company, with things getting increasingly busier after the pandemic hit. He has tried to make meditation and mindfulness as accessible as possible, since he’s learned first-hand how beneficial it can be. “It’s scientifically proven that it’s the best thing that you can do for your brain,” he says. “I’m trying to make it relatable to everyday people. This isn’t about hippies sitting on a mountainside. It’s for moms and dads and professionals. It’s for everyone to get the most out of mental health and mental performance.”