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Three meditation studies that inspire me to practice

When Jason and I recorded the second podcast for this program (which, btw, you can still sign up for!), I told him that I often read  yoga and meditation research — for fun. He somewhat incredulously blurted out, “Nerd!” because he had no idea that I love poring over Harvard Health’s recent round-up or that I visit Richard Davidson’s site on the regular just to see if there’s anything new…

But it’s true – I do. In part, it comes from my years of writing short health pieces. But it’s also because the research inspires me. We all get bored in our practice from time to time. Reading the research is part of how I bargain with myself to sit down and do the practice. Even after all these years, I still need need reminders about why this practice is so valuable. Plus, I genuinely love seeing how science is starting to measure the things we inherently know when we engage with these practices over long periods of time – that they make us more empathic, that happiness is a skill, that somehow we aren’t as triggered by stress anymore.

With that in mind, here are three of my favorite meditation studies (I include lots more in the program):

Jason Crandell Meditating | Yoga Meditation | Jason Crandell Yoga

Compassion Meditation Changes the Brain

More than 10 years ago, Richard Davidson’s team published a study in PLOS One indicating that “positive emotions such as loving-kindness and compassion can be learned in the same way as playing a musical instrument or being proficient in a sport.” Brain scans of 16 monks who were exposed to distressing human sounds showed increased activity in regions of the brain associated with emotion sharing and empathy compared to a control group. Access the study here >>

Mindfulness Increases Grey Matter

This study, led by Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar, showed that after just 8 weeks of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), participants demonstrated increases in areas of the brain associated with compassion and empathy, memory, and concentration. In addition, the participants’ amygdala got smaller! The amygdala is associated with fear and the fight or flight response.  Access the study here >>

Meditation May Protect the Aging Brain

When researchers at UCLA compared the brains of meditators to non-meditators they found that meditator’s brains were almost a decade younger by the time people reach their mid 50s. Research is still ongoing, but the hope is that meditation may help protect against age-related decline. Access the study here >>

I hope these studies inspire your practice! For more inspiration, consider joining You Can Sit With Us, which includes self-compassion meditations, mindfulness meditation, and self-inquiry practices.

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Episode 71: Increase Your Happiness, Curiosity, & Connection With Self-Compassion

High self-esteem used to be regarded as a vital component to happiness. But it’s fallen out of favor in the past decade. Research — much of it led by Dr. Kristin Neff — has shown that self-compassion is a more effective way to increase optimism, happiness, curiosity, and connectedness. This episode talks you through the research and offers three very practical ways to incorporate self-compassion in your yoga practice and life.

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A lovingkindess meditation is a great way to generate compassion — or at the very least, a benign, friendly feeling — toward yourself and others. The traditional teaching is done seated, but as a personal note, I’ve found that it works well during walking meditation.

1. Sit comfortably on the floor with your legs crossed or in a chair that supports your spine.
2. Close your eyes and take a minute to focus on your breath. When you feel ready, repeat the following phrases to yourself or out loud:

May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I be safe.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
May I be happy.

3. After repeating the above phrases to yourself for about 5 minutes, pause. Think of someone you love and conjure an image of that person. Then repeat the phrases above, focusing on that person. Instead of “May I be filled…” you can change the pronoun appropriately or use their name.

4. After about five minutes, you can try to extend lovingkindess to all beings — regardless of how you feel about them personally and regardless of whether or not you know them. The idea is to extend this kind, open-hearted practice to everyone.

5. When you’ve finished your meditation, notice how difficult or easy it was to offer lovingkindness to yourself vs. the person you love vs. extending it out to all beings. Everyone is different and every day is different. Remember that you don’t have to get meditation “right;” it’s simply a practice to commit to on a regular basis and concentration gets easier with time.

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