How you can get a younger, healthier brain in less than 30 minutes

New research shows that we can literally change our minds. And these changes not only increase well-being and quality of life, but they can actually slow down the aging of your brain.

And it’s all the result of a gentle, noninvasive technique.

I’m talking, of course, about mindfulness meditation.

It’s no secret that the practice of meditation brings a sense of peacefulness and relaxation. But for centuries, people who meditate regularly have also reported cognitive benefits and psychological improvements that persist throughout the day—and perhaps throughout a lifetime.

Now, research backs up those reports, offering definitive evidence that meditation can change the structure of the brain. And amazingly, it may even help humans create more brain cells.

In other words, while the government medical industrial complex spends hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on the latest “Decade of the Brain,” we may already have an effective, non-drug treatment for disorders like dementia.

And all it takes is a little contemplation.

Less than half an hour a day of meditation can make a big difference

In a pair of studies, people taking part in mindfulness meditation programs showed results that shocked even the most experienced neuroscientists at Harvard University and UCLA.

The first study involved 16 people who meditated an average of 27 minutes a day for eight weeks. After the study ended, MRI scans showed measurable increases in the participants’ grey matter.1 Grey matter is involved in muscle control, vision and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision-making, and self-control.

None of these results were seen in the control group of non-meditators, showing that the positive changes to the brain were not just due to passage of time. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements, and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing,” said my colleague, Dr. Sara Lazar, senior author of the study at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

In another study, researchers at the UCLA Brain Mapping Center did MRIs on the brains of 50 people who had meditated for an average of 20 years, and also on the brains of 50 people who didn’t meditate.2

Again, the researchers looked at the participant’s grey matter. And they found that people in both groups lost some of their brains’ grey matter as they aged.

But the volume of grey matter among the people who meditated did not decline nearly as much as it did in the non-meditators. And the meditators also had better-preserved grey matter as they aged compared to the non-meditators.

In addition, previous studies found other structural differences between the brains of experienced meditators, compared to people with no meditation experience. For instance, meditators have a thicker cerebral cortex in the areas of the brain associated with attention and emotional integration.

It is remarkable to observe how the actual structure of the brain is influenced by simple behaviors such as daily meditation. And that these changes begin to happen within just a couple of months—and last a lifetime.

History’s great minds were meditators

This new research may even help explain how some of the brightest minds in history came about.

You see, some people considered to be among the smartest in American history were known to practice what was then called “contemplation.”

These early-day meditators included John Adams (political theorist and statesman, and second U.S. president), Thomas Jefferson (18th century “renaissance man” and third U.S. president), Ralph Waldo Emerson (leading 19th century philosopher and writer), Henry David Thoreau (the author of Walden, who wrote about hearing the beat of “a different drummer”), William James (founder of American psychology), and the list goes on.

In fact, it was during a lecture on Nantucket island that Herman Melville heard Emerson’s account of the true story of the whale ship Essex. That gave Melville the idea for Moby Dick, which is often considered to be The Great American Novel, and offers an authentic, creative, and truly contemplative study on the relationship between man and nature.

Which poses the question: Are many of our country’s great intellectual achievements due to the larger brains that result from contemplation or meditation?

We discuss this is theory in the book I wrote with Don McCown, New World Mindfulness: From the Founding Fathers, Emerson, and Thoreau to Your Personal Practice (available at

Our book also shows there is no real magic or mystery to attaining a state of mindfulness. Through the simple practice of daily contemplation, you too can achieve the brain-boosting benefits of meditation that have been enjoyed by generations of great American thinkers.


Your step-by-step guide to becoming more “mindful”

When most people think of meditation, they picture the stereotypical cross-legged pose, eyes closed, repeating the word “Om” over and over again. But mindfulness meditation doesn’t have to include any of those things. In fact, you can practice it right now. And you don’t even have to get up out of your chair to do it.

Start simply by sitting still, trying not to move. Then, focus your attention on your breath. Be aware of the thoughts, emotions, and environmental changes (sounds, sensations, etc.) that arise from moment to moment. If your thoughts drift, try to bring your attention back to the present. Refocus on your breathing and what is occurring in the moment.

That is the essence of mindfulness meditation—being “present.” Not thinking ahead to the future or back to the past. But just being fully aware of everything in the moment. It always reminds me of the old adage “The past is history. The future is mystery. But now is a gift. That’s why we call it the ‘present.’”


1”Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density.” Psychiatry Research – Neuroimaging 2011; 191(1): 36-43

2 “Forever young(er): Potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy.” Frontiers in Psychology, epub ahead of print 1/21/15