Does Meditation Make You Smarter? Here's How The Practice Actually Affects Your Brain
Sharpening and broadening the mind is one of those things that should be a lifelong endeavor, right? At times, though, it can seem like daily life is a constant inundation of information (thank you, social media) that only seems to make us, well, a little less sharp up top. But hey, there are ways to counteract the amount of space that commercial jingles and rumored Kardashian baby names are taking up in our brains. This might not be shocking, but it's true, my friends: Meditation can make you smarter and more productive, to boot.
Now, I know you probably feel like you've read and heard about nearly every single possible benefit that meditation promises. It can help you sleep, it can make you a happier person, and it might even make your sex life better. The idea of meditation improving your intelligence might seem like an obvious, inherent benefit of the practice — after all, it's all about transforming the mind to improve your concentration, and your ability to be in the present moment — but trust me, there's so much more to it than you think.
For one thing, practicing meditation may literally increase the size of your brain over time.
In a 2009 study published in the journal NeuroImage, the brains of people who regularly meditate were found to be slightly larger in certain regions than in those who don't practice mindfulness. Using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the researchers scanned the brains of 44 people, 22 of whom weren't meditators, while the other 22 subjects had been practicing various forms of meditation for anywhere from five to 46 years, roughly 10 to 90 minutes per day.
Basically, the study found that there were distinct regions in the brains of long-term meditators that were just straight-up larger than the brains of people who didn't meditate at all — specifically, the hippocampus, the inferior temporal gyrus, the orbito-frontal cortex, and the thalamus. In case you don't know (because who does, really?), these are all regions of the brain that help regulate emotions, according to UCLA Newsroom.
Eileen Luders, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral research fellow at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, explained the findings,
We know that people who consistently meditate have a singular ability to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability and engage in mindful behavior.
The observed differences in brain anatomy might give us a clue why meditators have these exceptional abilities.
But meditation doesn't just help you deal with your emotions in a healthier way; it can also make you better at multi-tasking.
A 2012 study done by researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Arizona showed that meditation can improve your ability to multi-task, even in high-stress situations. After only eight weeks of meditation training, participants in the study were able to focus and stay on-task for longer periods of time, demonstrated better memory when it came to their assigned tasks, and experienced fewer negative emotions in high-pressure situations.
However, with all that being said, spiritual teacher and meditation guide, Biet Simkin, has a totally different perspective on how meditation affects your brain.
"Meditation actually makes you dumber in a way," the spiritual teacher tells Elite Daily, "if that makes sense."
Uh, wait a minute — what?
Simkin goes on to explain that most of us are too "smart" for our own good, meaning we tend to overcomplicate things that should be relatively simple (i.e. meditation). Think of your brain like a traffic light on the fritz: There are way too many signals going off at once most of the time, and according to Simkin, meditation slows, or "dumbs" that activity down.
"Meditation creates crispness to thought, so it isn’t muddled with emotion," she explains. "It really creates division between emotion and thought, allowing your decision-making process to be sharp."
Mindfulness can also boost your creative intelligence, Simkin says, which might make it an especially good practice for passion projects, or anything that requires you to think outside the box. It helps you develop an intuitive sense about "what will bring the most ease and joy," the spiritual teacher says.
"If intelligence is having a life that is balanced and both pleasurable and garners results," adds Simkin, "Then meditation is the tool for you."