Coming up on catalyst, science puts meditation to the test. Can it really transform your mind and body? The ancient art of meditation has moved out of the temple and into our daily lives. It's practiced by top class athletes even taught in some of the most powerful corporations in the world. You don't have to be Buddhist to meditate. You just have to be a person with a functioning mind.
You discoveries in science suggests it may indeed have benefits. I say that's enormous. Boost memory and treat depression. I decided I was well enough to come up with the medication and meditation may even slow the aging process. are very promising they actually do suggests there are benefits. From brain scans to blood tests from the psychological to the biological definition.
I'm going to investigate the hard evidence to see if meditation lives up to the hype. And I can put my own brain to the test and undertake eight weeks of mindfulness meditation. Will it make you less stressed, will improve my memory? Will it change the structure of my brain? Londoner Nick Brewer is a yoga and meditation teacher. But life hasn't always been so serene.
For 10 years, Nick ran a drug Empire smuggling cocaine out of Colombia. That essentially was quite a wealthy guy. Man at a property asset holding company, a nightclub restaurants, all the toys that go with it, you will look to me as being quite a successful entrepreneur, unless you know what I do for a living. In 2000 he was arrested in South America and sentenced to prison. They were one of the worst places you could ever imagine in your entire life. It was poor, it was broken, it was corrupt.
You're anxious about absolutely everything. you're anxious about staying alive about where your next plate of food is gonna come from. If you've got any money if you haven't got any money, you're gonna get right. killed a year into a sentence that was shown a book by Selma. I asked him what he had it says got a book on yoga. So obviously at the time I said, you know, ask yourselves to a weirdo.
Soon he was hooked and began practicing yoga and meditation every day. It was the stitching practice and the yoga practices that helped me to you know, if Find some kind of serenity in, Nick transformed his life. I have a very happy life. extremely humble, I have a lot of amazing clients that I teach. So you know, the last five years have been completely transformational. Like, Nick, I guess, I'd never really contemplated whether meditation could do anything for me.
But the more I hear about the research, the more canine to see whether it has any effect. So I'm going to try it myself for two months. Step one, learning how it's done. I'm off to see Dr. Richard chambers as a clinical psychologist, but also an expert in mindfulness. He's going to teach me how to meditate apparently. Mindfulness is a type of meditation where we focus our attention on the present moment, and the body, the breath, that kind of thing.
Mindfulness Meditation is the most well researched type of meditation. And just taking a few moments to check in, just notice the state that your body is in checking in with the mind. Some scientists say it can boost physical and mental health and improve cognitive abilities. And when the mind inevitably wanders, just noticing that and see if you can bring it back gently, without any further thinking. Most of us focus our attention on daydreams and distraction and rumination and worry and a whole bunch of stuff. We can train ourselves and we can, we can actually build a mindful muscle to train ourselves to be focused and present.
Just enjoy the moment more key to building this so called mindful muscle is strengthening the prefrontal cortex. If the brain were an orchestra, the prefrontal cortex is like the conductor. When we notice our attentions wandered and we bring it back to the present moment, we activate the proof frontal cortex. It's forming new signups as new connections and getting thicker and stronger like a muscle. And will I feel a sense of well being or more relaxed? Or why don't we wait and see what happens for you?
I mean, I'm going to predict Yes. But one of the best ways to learn mindfulness is through the doing for me to take meditation seriously, I need some hard evidence that it's changing my brain for the better that's the weapon. weapon. We'll put one of these on you it's the eg cap. So I've come to see neuroscientist Dr. Neil Bailey. He's about to put me through a raft of rigorous tests to get a measure of my brain power at the beginning of the eight weeks meditation.
Right right. Looks like we've got some brain activity. Fantastic, contrary to popular opinion, first up, an eg to measure my brains electrical activity. When we activate it, it will give you a gentle electrical shock. That's annoying. Is it annoying but not painful at all?
Oh, definition pioneer. The tests will measure my memory, my reaction time and my ability to focus you to respond to the meaning of the emotion of the word and try and ignore the emotion on the face. Okay, so angry face could have the word happy. Exactly. electrical activity in the brain is produced as neurons communicate with each other. The synchronized signals or brainwaves.
When you meditate, alpha and theta waves increase, an activity in some parts of the brain decreases, allowing me to focus. The idea is after eight weeks, the brain activity changes I experienced during meditation It will have a lasting effect on my brain. According to Dr. Bailey, I'll be better able to concentrate, make faster decisions and remember more information. most extraordinary, my brain might even become more energy efficient. You performing better, but your brain is exerting less energy, you're getting a decrease in neural activity, you might be able to do just as well in your job, but be exerting less mental energy. So when you get home, you're less tired.
Beyond enhancing My brain's performance, I also want to know if meditation can have an even more dramatic effect and actually change its physical structure. Say I hate being locked in confined spaces not looking forward to this. So I've come for an MRI to have some before and after brain structure scans. This next one is going to go for about six minutes. Try not to think of anything just let your mind go blank. Recent research from Harvard University showed that just eight weeks of meditation can physically change the structure of the brain.
Everything we do affects the brain. So any skill we learn anything we practice will change the way our brain is structured. So over time, if you're repeating a practice, for example, mindfulness, it's gone to strengthen certain connections in the brain and change the the gray matter for example, volumes of the brain. gray matter is the darker tissue of the brain when most of the nerve cell bodies are. The Harvard research found that gray matter increased in key areas, such as the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and temporal parietal junction. And these are parts of the brain that help us to remember to focus to learn to inhibit impulses and regulate our emotions.
If we sat there daydreaming for 20 minutes, we'd be strengthening a different part or different parts of the brain and we get to choose what we want to drink. Can we use it or lose it, Brian? Now it is early days for a lot of this research, but the possibility of meditation changing the structure of my brain suddenly sounds exciting. I have to wait eight weeks to find out my results. I better stop meditating. Okay, the end of week one, it's now breathing meditation and that's more challenging.
Just focusing on one thing, your breath which are very easy to get distracted from. But can meditation change the body as well as the brain? A handful of studies show it might be good for health by reducing inflammation and stress hormones. So far, there's an interesting growing list of some of the different ways that meditation affects the body. The question us researcher Dr. Alyssa pill wants to answer Slow down aging and looking in particular at aging markers. By now the field has a pretty good collection of very interesting studies that do suggest that there are benefits to our rate of aging.
Signs of aging can be seen inside the body cells, specifically in the tiny caps at the end of each chromosome known as the telomeres. telomeres protect our genes. Now what happens as we age our immune cells divide and the telomeres shorten those protective cats get shorter and shorter, so we want to keep those intact. Basically, the shorter the telomeres, the faster the aging. Several studies have compared the telomeres of meditators to new meditators. It looks like telomere length, that measure of how our immune cells age stabilizes more and doesn't shorten In the meditation group, other studies have measured telomere runnings, the enzyme that protects those precious telomeres.
Those studies have suggested that telomerase can go up and Kilmer length can be better maintained during those periods. And, you know, we wait for lots of replications before we say something is true or fact, the studies are very promising, very suggestive. We've seen how meditation can change you biologically. But how about psychologically one of the most widely studied there is a meditation research is the effect on mental health. Ross bond has been coping with depression for years. I wasn't really comfortable mind scheme was very sort of agitated, quick to anger.
I don't really feel I knew who I was or was not doing the things I love. and enjoyed. I wasn't saying my friends or family anymore, and my relationship was strained. Really, it was it was very difficult. Ross was given medication, but he didn't like the side effects. It really didn't make me feel very well.
I still didn't feel like myself. I was still wasn't sleeping, I was still very agitated or just felt pretty detached from everything and everyone. Ross is one of a growing number of people using meditation to treat their depression. actually practice mindfulness whilst hiking. I find it's quite easy to to focus on putting one foot in front of the other and then just noticing the world around me and, and then how my body feels. People who practice mindfulness, show better mental health than 70% of the population on average.
People with depression and anxiety have even large against the net. The data shows that that reduces depressive symptoms, but the big finding is that it has the rate of depressive relapse. For people who've had three or more depressive episodes. If they learn mindfulness as part of their treatment that half is likely to get depressed again down the track. Indeed, for some meditation could be an alternative to the medication. paper that came out last year meta analysis has found that it's as effective as antidepressants for preventing relapse, which is a pretty significant finding.
Did it make a difference to you? Yes, absolutely. It would have been about eight months or so. I've decided knows well enough, I will enough to come up with the medication. Dr. Richard chambers believes mindfulness meditation works because it breaks the cycle of depression. thoughts, depressive thoughts that maybe goes through people's minds that they don't normally notice.
They're just running in the background like an app and producing people's mood. So mindfulness helps them to notice that and then just to recognize it as a thought, rather than taking it seriously believing or trying to push it away, which then gets the attention very much caught up in that kind of rumination. just noticing it, let it go, bring the attention back to the present during the meditation really helps break that rumination cycle. And overall that allows me to focus on all sorts of things if I need to focus on work, not my mind's not wandering away thinking about something else. So it's training my brain to focus. That's the main aim.
So how exactly does meditation train the brain? One of the things that many types of meditation do is exercise our attention, muscle, and boy, that's an important muscle. This so called attention muscle may exert some control over one of the brain areas tied up with emotion, the amygdala. When the amygdala gets activated, that's when we feel fear and anxiety and that sort of thing. So it's its purpose is to give experience an emotional salience. in something like depression or anxiety, it becomes overactive.
And so it's, it's constantly activated and providing that sensation of anxiety or fear or hyper vigilance. After meditation. Other parts of the brain appear more in control of the amygdala. What happens is, in theory, at least, and from what we can tell from the brain scans, when you've practiced a lot of mindfulness, both the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, those regions exert more regulation on the amygdala and dampen the effect of that anxiety or fear coming up. meditations list of benefits does seem remarkable, and some are concerned media hype is falsely over selling them. After all, the research is still in its infancy.
The few studies that have looked at it have found that mindfulness was any better than other forms of therapies, which in itself is is not a bad outcome. But there simply isn't enough research. Professional Ferriss believes certain people should exercise particular caution. All kinds of meditation were originally designed to rattle your sense of self. There is something which has traumatized you in your life, and you've forgotten about it by meditating, you may become aware of it and this will exacerbate all the symptoms It can actually increase stress, it can lead to greater levels of anxiety, panic attacks in some people. There were times where I would dredge up past experiences that I really didn't want to go back to.
And it was really quite disturbing and confronting at the time, I never expected for that to occur. Professor Ferris also believes there may be an inherent bias in the research 99% of the researchers have only been looking at the potential benefits are the positive effects. They haven't really been asking people about the adverse effects. If you've got a psychotic disorder, if you're really anxious, or if you are getting it taught to you badly, maybe it's not going to be so so good. When you're going through a stressful time you got a lot on your mind. It is really hard to get all that stuff out when you're meditating.
I'm finding a really hot it's time for a catch up with Dr. Richard chambers. So I might just check in how's your practice been going on the scientific type? You know, I'd like to do a lot more experiments before I draw any conclusions, but I'm feeling more relaxed than I have been for some time. And I noticed the stress, but it's not like I'm sucked into it. I just sort of cruise through which is very good. Reducing Stress is one of the most commonly reported effects of meditation.
You know, the stress isn't actually in the situation, the stress is in our relationship with the situation. But stress is a complicated thing. We can't avoid stress. Stress is an embedded part of life. And in fact, engaging in new things and challenges is very good for us. But we need to make sure that we have enough reserves in our days, or at the least in our weeks, and that's where meditation might help.
Meditation and Mind Body activities are a wonderful way to build our kind of physiological and psychological resiliency. To get a better idea of how meditation works on a bigger scale, I've come to maintain temple to make meditation teacher shocky. She believes it has an important role to play in society. When I first started meditating, I remember I was telling everyone, this is the cheapest form of dealing with stress, anxiety that's available to you. It's totally free. Really, because it's just you and your mind.
Schottky is part of an international project, teaching meditation to inmates in New South Wales correction centers. People get into prison. And in one way you can say it's a bit like going into a retreat, you know, because you go into a closed environment, a lot of things are taken away from you. And one thing you do have time on your hands. So what you're going to do now is you focus all your awareness strongly on the sensation at your nostrils. As you breathe in and out.
You just feel that take one more breath and you'll feel it okay. She believes it improves mental health and AIDS rehabilitation. And it doesn't take very long to see the effects in a prison environment. Former inmate Nick Brewer experienced these benefits firsthand. There were deep shifts in my psychological patterns and thought patterns about the way I thought about myself. For Life, and it started a whole rehabilitation process.
I think every one of us whether we're in prison or out, we look at our lives by not knowing what's going on inside ourselves. And so the words vomit out the mouth until the fist does the does the punch, you know, it kind of you get into trouble in life, they learn more about themselves, they learn what is it triggers me, you know, what triggers me to anger what triggers me to act out in in ways selfish ways or ways that do harm to others. Professor farriers studied the effect of meditation on prison inmates in South America. He believes that helps in some ways, but it's no magic bullet did find they became less stressed they had a lower probability of having psychological problems. On the other hand, we also found out that there weren't differences in terms of aggression or interpersonal behavior, which was something we were looking for.
My old self is very alien to me. Now. I can relate to that. The old Nick the character, but why did you know it's dead? And my personal trial has come to an end. Who would have thought I'd ever take part in a group meditation session.
Anyway, boy, eight weeks is up. Now, my results back to mohnish. To find out if all the dedication has paid off, I'm keen to see if I've made a difference to my body. Three hours of cognitive tests and brain scans later, it wasn't bad this time. We're gonna wait a week for the results apparently. And its results time with Dr. Bailey, an MRI expert Dr. Chow saw.
Overall, you did better in three of the five tasks better behavioral performance. Fantastic. Not only that, You exerted less brain activity, so you spend less energy to do better. This one in particular, was your memory task. It better than you did better. That was very hard.
Yes, it was very hot. It's annoying, was actually one way we went around and distracting you with that tiny electrical shock. I remember. Well, the same time as you were trying to remember stuff. It feels like it's easy for me to intervene if my brain is doing something I don't want to do. And that's cool.
And it's that's actually a really interesting point for this. Next slide your reaction time to unexpected events. You cut your reaction time by 400 milliseconds, really, so much. half a second. Yeah. It's huge.
Its massive. If you're driving a car and a pedestrian steps out in front of you. 400 milliseconds is probably a life saving amount of time. That's very good news. Yeah. I was better at the tasks, but had my brain physically changed.
Sort of my brain scan results show alright. Let's start with the structure changing at three brain regions has been reported before. There were indeed changes in my gray matter density in several parts of my brain. Big changes in the scheme of things. Yes, yes. That's very interesting finding the most dramatic change within a part of my hippocampus known as the dentate gyrus when new brain cells are produced in adults 22.8%.
Yeah, it's huge. That's really large. I mean, Something's definitely going on. You've got what we call, neurogenesis happening. In other words, you brain cells are growing. And there's more.
My hippocampus is also exerting more control over something called the default mode network, which is associated with anxiety. These changes are not usually seen in someone my age, younger people. Sure that pattern more than older people, it's as if my brain is getting a little bit younger. Yeah, you reverse the aging process a little bit and, and your brain could complain about that. Now, sure, my personal experience is not a proper scientific study. So we can't say for sure these brain changes with a direct result of meditation.
But hey, I'm impressed and certainly feeling happy with my younger, heavier Brian.