In less than the time than you probably spend every day browsing your Facebook feed, you could be improving your brain and increasing your IQ.
One study found that meditating for just 20 minutes a day can improve not only mood and stress levels but also deep cognitive processing efficiency, which is a core aspect of your fluid intelligence. Luckily, the research is indicating that you don’t have to meditate for hours at a time to reap benefits. You just have to do it regularly.
Types Of Intelligence
Intelligence is traditionally divided into two categories: crystallized and fluid. More recent theories propose that there are many types of distinctly different kinds of intelligence. Each operates from a different part of the brain and is relatively independent of the others, with its own timetable for development and growth. For our purposes here, we’ll just consider the basic two.
Crystallized intelligence is the information, skills, and experience you learn from the process of living and knowledge you pick up along the way. Simply put, it’s what you “know” and how you use it. Logically, this accumulates as you age and starts to decline around age 65. Crystallized intelligence utilizes areas of your brain involved in the storage and retrieval of long-term memories.
Fluid intelligence doesn’t depend on your education, learning, or experiences. It’s the ability to identify patterns, solve novel problems, and use logic in new situations. In other words, it’s your ability to think on-the-spot. Fluid intelligence isn’t about how much you know. It’s about being creative, aware, innovative, and visionary.
Like reaction time, fluid intelligence typically peaks in young adulthood, then steadily declines. It involves the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex, and other brain regions associated with attention and short-term memory.
It’s pretty easy to improve your crystallized knowledge. You can do so by reading books, listening to TED talks, going back to school, picking up a new hobby, etc. For a long time, it was believed that you couldn’t improve fluid intelligence.
Now, studies show that meditation can dramatically improve your fluid intelligence fairly quickly and up your overall IQ.
Just Four Days Of Meditation Improves Cognitive Efficiency
According to the article, Meditation Increases IQ – 4 Days of Meditation Improves Cognitive Efficiency, in the experiment:
The brief mindfulness meditation practice – but not the book reading – improved concentration (attentional focus) and the efficiency of what are called ‘executive processes’ – the ability to maintain focus on tasks or goals in an intelligent way, and not be distracted. In other words, the ability to ‘stay on strategy’. Meditators also gained efficiency in long-term memory retrieval – not just short term working memory, as measured by more fluid word association. The meditation group did particularly well on all the cognitive tests that were timed – where participants had to process information under time pressure causing stress.
Why Meditation Improves Your IQ
Meditation slows brain wave activity.
Your brain has four basic brain waves:
- Beta – These are the fastest and the most common brain waves for a waking, conscious state produced by your thinking mind.
- Alpha – Alpha waves denote a relaxed, detached awareness. They would be present when you’re daydreaming, for example, or in light meditation.
- Theta – Theta waves are produced by the subconscious mind. Your subconscious holds long-term memories, core beliefs, and all your psychological baggage. However, it’s also the key to deep insight, bliss, and intuition. Theta waves are seen in deep meditation.
- Delta – These are the waves of the unconscious mind most common during sleep, but occurring some while awake too.
In her book, Awakening the Mind: A Guide to Harnessing the Power of Your Brainwaves, Anna Wise refers to meditation as a “state of consciousness – a specific brain wave pattern – not a technique.”
According to ScienceDaily:
…nondirective meditation yields more marked changes in electrical brain wave activity associated with wakeful, relaxed attention than just resting without any specific mental technique.
Meditation Encourages Neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of your brain to literally change its physical form and function as a result of experience. Science has shown that meditation changes your brain in significant beneficial ways:
- Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. – This might translate as better attention, interoception, and sensory processing.
- Long-term meditation is associated with increased gray matter density in the brain stem. – Increased density here is associated with cardiorespiratory control.
- The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation are larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter. – Research found that brain areas involved in emotional regulation and response control were bigger.
- Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. – The extra brain matter was observed particularly in the left hippocampus, which is strongly involved in learning and memory.
- Meditation induces growth in brain white matter. – The brain’s white matter is made up of myelinated axons which transport nerve impulses to and from gray matter. Think of it as the brain’s subway.
Meditation Improves Your Ability To Pay Attention.
When you meditate, you are exercising parts of your brain responsible for attention skills. One study showed that three months of meditation practice supports the notion that mental training can significantly affect attention and brain function. One type of meditation, in particular, focused attention meditation, showed higher levels of activity in the prefrontal and parietal cortices.
Here’s how you do it:
- Sit comfortably, with your eyes open, in a quiet room free of distractions. Find an external, visual object on which to focus, such as a single carpet thread, a door knob, a button on your shirt, or a candle flame – not your breath, a mental visualization, or a mantra.
- Keep your eyes glued to that one object and all your attention focused on it.
- When your mind strays from the object, and it most definitely will, gently guide it back to the subject again and again.
If you already have a meditation practice, good for you! You are already getting amazing brain benefits. If you don’t, what are you waiting for? You can read more about how meditation helps your brain and how to practice here.