The 5 Awesome Ways That Meditation Makes Us SMARTER

One of the biggest challenges in modern living is to convince ourselves to take a break from the informational influx and productivity-obsessed culture. We're constantly connected to each other and the world, whether we need to or not. We're constantly driving to produce and create and never to let it rest. Even when we sleep.

What's worse, when we actually do force ourselves to take the time to unwind, it's laden with so much guilt and productivity-driven thoughts, so much that to actually take a break loses its purpose. Against the ticking-clock and daily tasks, meditating seems to be out of the question. How could I? I can't just sit back and indulge in some cult-ish behaviour instead of doing the dishes or liking one more status on Facebook, can I?

So I needed some serious bait that will make meditation worth my time and money. I don't want another hippie fad. I want hard evidence, in dollars and diamonds. This is me trying to find reasons that are worth more than dollars to meditate.

How meditation makes you smarter:

1. Meditation changes the brain's anatomic structure.

Meditation is like a gym for the brain. In meditation, the brain grows bigger, neurons become more flexible and connections between these neurons reach farther. A research compared the brains of 50 long-time meditation practitioners with the brains of people who do not mediate. They found out that the brains of people who have been meditating have more prominent cortical gyrifications, which means that they had a larger capacity for fluid intelligence, or the ability to learn and recognize and remember new things. Even though they are growing older. The longer they have been meditating, the more pronounced were the cortical gyrifications.

2. General Brain Tune-Up

This piece of good news came from methods of treating developmental dyslexia: Transfer of training.

Let's assume that meditation initially trains the brain in one cognitive area, i.e. focus. From that training, the brain then transfers what it has learned to boost the performance of other cognitive skills located near the “focus” app in the brain, such as memory or creativity.

The reason behind this is that meditation heightens activity in different areas of the brain altogether. Just because you decide to focus, doesn't mean that the brain is going to constrain its activation to as far as focusing. Instead, it will also activate every other app that runs on the same operating system as focus. Especially those which control complex cognitive behaviour, personality expression, decision making, and social behaviour.

3. Better Memory

There is a lot of research on the effects of meditation upon memory, whether short term, long term or working memory. But before I go there, I'm going to use the CPU allegory again to explain how meditation improves memory.

Meditation is like a defragmenter for the database in our brains. Every time we meditate, we are turning over our database, taking every disorganized bit from its hidden location, sort and label that data in a comprehensive format, the neatly them in long-term memory slots. Since these memories are organized in our biological database, retrieving them from the memory vaults becomes easier, faster and more coherent.

(While we're at it, might as well mention that memory is not stored only in brain, but also in muscular, connective, epithelial and nerve tissues spread all over the body.)

The idea that brain needs memory space to process and assimilate information is applied in the brain-based education method. Supporters of the Brain-Based education believe there is a limit to how much information the brain can receive, and that students who are crammed with too much information without getting enough time to process and assimilate information properly in their mindframe cannot make the best out of their learning experience. Improper storage of information leads to faster memory loss. Another study indicated that students who receive meditation/mindfulness training performed better in their GRE tests and had better cognitive performance.

You have read three points so far. Are you sure you don't need a break?

4. Faster problem solving

This is from the theories of creativity on the importance of incubation. It's the same reason that eureka moments happen when we least expect them. Creative problems cannot be solved when the brain is under pressure. The more a brain is pressed to find answers, the more stress hormones are poured at the cost of shutting down the creative areas of the brain. What meditation does is tricking the brain to remain relaxed even though there is a demand for creative answers. Scientists suggest play to distract the brain from thinking that it is under pressure, but meditators know a simpler and less distracting method than throwing digital birds at digital piggies. With practice, the brain will eventually figure out how not to shut down the creative processes while being pressured for solutions. In the mean time, meditation intentionally creates a cognitive environment that the brain needs in order to relax and allow for creative incubation to occur.

5. A happy brain makes a happy learner.

This one's a no-brainer: Meditation improves happiness. But how does happiness make you smarter? Turns out that happiness, even for just a little bit, creates larger-than-life feelings. Happiness broadens our expectations of the world and of ourselves, which then allows us to discover and apply cognitive acrobatics that we can't be bothered with if we weren't feeling happy enough (such as mindfulness, sense of control, and coming out of influenza).

In contrast, imagine having to learn a new language while feeling blue or embarrassed. Of course, emotional context adds valuable dimension to learning, but would it be a memory that you want to retrieve and recall often? This is another reason why meditation helps us learn regardless to emotional context: Meditation teaches detachment. Experiences can be broken down into their simplest forms and be selectively kept or discarded. "Yes, this sucks, but we will disregard the sucky-y part and just learn from it."

Bonus Tip:

If we could amalgamate all the positive things that mediation does to the brain and intelligence, would it still seem cult-ish or procrastinating if meditation could help us age as dignified and graceful for as long as we can?

One of the facets of intelligence is the ability to fit conflicting ideas in one mind. Not because of a mental disorder, but actually because it takes a lot of mind to see more than one side in every story. How we find the lines that connect seemingly-disconnected ideas with one another is a matter of resources: Time and research. How we find the capacity to wait comfortably enough until these ideas reveal their secret connections with each other – if ever – is the immediate and practical wisdom of meditation.

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