Wendy Suzuki: We know a lot about or are growing
our knowledge about the effects of meditation, long-term meditation in people like monks
that meditate for 50,000 hours in their lifetime. And we know that this completely changes the
electrophysiological responses of their brains. They have much higher levels of what we call
gamma waves, which is a particular frequency of wave. Not only that but even their resting
baseline — even when they’re not meditating they’re brainwaves are more like meditation,
the meditation kind of brainwaves than novice people that don’t have any experience meditating.
So it really changes both the baseline level of physiological activity as well as the response
when you’re asked to actually meditate. There are kind of two categories of studies
that have been done on meditation. One on these lifelong meditators, the monks, and
the other category of studies on people like you and me that started out with no meditation
experience and started to meditate. And those perhaps are more relevant studies for most
people. And those studies have shown significant improvements in attention functions with increased
exercise. And also actual anatomical changes in the brain with perhaps a little bit more
experience with meditation, maybe five years of meditation experience increased the size
of white matter bundles in the prefrontal cortex. So there are, you know, substantial,
physiological, anatomical changes that have been shown with meditation and there’s also
effects on depressive symptoms. So decreases of depressive symptoms, decreases in stress
symptoms. So meditation is doing lots of positive things. And some very, very similar to exercise
and some slightly different. So I think there’s definitely going to be a difference, but there’s
overlapping positive functions that exercise and meditation have on your general brain
health. How do you get to be a regular meditator and
the answer is, I think, start very, very small. I know, for myself, I have a subchapter in
my book called Confessions of a Yo-yo Meditator because I think I have tried all different
kinds of meditation. And my big mistake early on was to try and meditate for too long at
a sitting. So I would try to meditate for 20-25 minutes with no meditation experience.
And it was a disaster. I forced myself to do it for 30 days thinking that that would
be it and I would form my habit. And day 31 I took a little break and I never came back.
But then when I came back again starting very, very small with things that, you know, I could
just do on my own — just breathing meditation. Focusing on the breath. Something that we
all do at the end of yoga classes. That’s what really kind of helped me build my muscle.
And I just had to stick with that very short meditation and build it up that way. And I
think people too often either start too long or don’t stick with it enough. But again,
shorter is better and I think that’s a key for people that want to start to meditate.