Meditate for a Healthier Brain – Four Minutes at a Time


This is the third in a series of posts based on Healthy Brain, Happy Life by Dr. Wendy Suzuki, neuroscientist at NYU.  [See New and Novel Experiences Promote Brain Health and Exercise Makes Your Smarter for previous posts.]

Dr. Suzuki acknowledges her own struggles, as so many of us have, with sticking to a formal meditation practice. She describes herself as a “yo-yo” meditator, sometimes quite diligent, other times quite slack.

That’s why I find the 4-minute meditation practices below so appealing. They are doable ways to back into a steadier meditation practice.

Along the way, Dr. Suzuki offers some succinct nuggets about the impact of long-term meditation on the brain.  My favorite: patterns of rhythmic and synchronous brain activity, what neuroscientists call neural oscillations and what we call brain waves, differ remarkably in very experienced meditators from the rest of us. Folks with thousands of hours of meditation practice have far higher levels of the (very fast) gamma waves associated with higher cognitive functioning, visual attention, working memory, learning and conscious perception.  And gamma waves seem to be how the brain “binds” input from many different parts of the brain together, creating more coherent and integrated representations of our experience.  We might call that the clarity that leads to a happier life.

Dr. Suzuki is not a meditation teacher, by any stretch.  There are many, many resources available these days for learning how to meditate and deepen our meditation.  [Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, to mention two of my own teachers/mentors.]  But here are some of Dr. Suzuki’s suggestions for meaningful meditative experiences, even when we have only a few minutes.

Four-Minute Meditations

* At the beginning of your day, take four minutes to identify one goal or intention for your day, with the intention of practicing that intention for the entire day.

* Go to a quiet place outside and just sit silently for four minutes while focusing on the natural world around you and nothing else.

* Before you go to bed, sit quietly for four minutes focusing on your breath.

* Find a meditation buddy and make a pact to do a partnered four-minute session together at least three times a week.

[And of course, you can find your own way to pause, settle, relax into noticing your experience, moment by moment, for a full four moments.]