It’s pretty well accepted these days that meditation helps lower stress and increase feelings of well-being, but now it’s actually being proven that it rebuilds and changes areas of the brain. Woo-hoo! I can always use some help with that. 🙂
Harvard Study: How Meditation Literally Rebuilds Your Brain
By now, pretty much all of us know and accept that meditation provides a plethora of benefits, including reduced tension and stress and improved focus and concentration. However, how and why meditation does this has long remained unknown—until now!
Harvard University scientists have published the results of an 8-week study that used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine the effects of meditation on the brain. Participants in the study practiced forms of mindfulness meditation every day for approximately 30 minutes. Mindfulness is a meditation style that emphasizes maintaining an objective awareness of sensations, feelings and states of mind.
MRIs were taken at the beginning and end of the 8-week study. From the results, researchers determined that meditation literally rebuilds the brain’s gray matter in just 8 weeks—making this the very first study to document that meditation produces this kind of change over time. The changes observed in the meditators were NOT seen in the control group, signifying that they had not come about naturally over time, but rather that the daily act of meditating had produced them.
We know what you’re thinking: what is this mysterious gray matter that meditation is rebuilding? Gray matter is a major component of the central nervous system, and is found in areas of the brain involved in muscle control, seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision-making and self-control.
Research on the brain has shown that the amount and density of gray matter differs from individual to individual, and can determine or signify certain traits or talents. For example, scientists have found that professional musicians have denser gray matter in the area of the brain involved with processing music.
The Harvard study found that meditation can increase the density of the gray matter in the hippocampus, specifically. According to the Harvard Gazette, the hippocampus is, “known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.”
Participants also reported reductions in stress after the 8 weeks, which makes sense, as over the course of the study, the gray-matter density in the amygdala—which is known to play an important role in stress and anxiety—decreased.
This study is groundbreaking and empowering in that it shows that we have the power to change the structure of our own brains: to improve our memory and learning capacities, and to become more compassionate and self-aware.
Britta Holzel, first author of the study, summarized its incredible findings: “It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.”
-The Alternative Daily
And here’s more from The Alternative Daily that supports the idea that meditating is good for the brain….
…..a recent study from UCLA has used MRI imaging to show that people who meditate experience less gray matter loss compared with people who do not meditate.
In light of much recent research focusing on meditation’s benefits to the brain, the results weren’t particularly surprising. However, the aspect of the study which did surprise researchers was that the effects were not only seen in the portions of the brain associated with meditating.
A co-author of the study, Florian Kurth, explains: “We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating….Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.”
The study is also unique in that it included a large number of long-term meditators. MRIs were taken of 50 meditators (28 men and 22 women) between the ages of 24 and 77. The subjects had practiced meditation from between 4 to 46 years—20 years on average.
This study comes at an important time. We know that the weight and volume of the brain slowly begin to decrease in ones 20’s, and continues over time, eventually reducing the brain’s ability to function optimally. So, even though people are living to be older and older, one’s quality of life often decreases with age, partly due to the increased likelihood of developing a mental illness or a neuro-degenerative disease in ones final years.
Unless we want quality of life to be sacrificed for a longer life, it’s crucial that we pay more attention to methods of maintaining a healthy brain. In the words of Dr. Eileen Luders, first author of the study:
“While much research has focused on identifying factors that increase the risk of mental illness and neuro-degenerative decline, relatively less attention has been turned to approaches aimed at enhancing cerebral health.”
Although some gray matter reduction is inevitable as we age, the study suggests that meditation may mitigate the deterioration. Meaning, both the meditators and the control group showed some loss in gray matter as they aged, but the gray matter in the brains of those who meditated appeared to be better preserved.
Although more studies will have to be done to draw a direct connection between meditation and reduced aging in the brain, the researchers called the results “promising,” and we agree!
And, of course, meditation affects more than just the brain. It’s been proven to reduce stress, increase blood flow and help reduce symptoms of IBS and IBD, among other things. I read recently that:
In 2012, Time magazine published the work of professor Robert Schneider, lead author on the study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. He and his colleagues followed 201 African American men and women with coronary heart disease.
The participants were randomly assigned to participate in either a health education class about heart-friendly diet and exercise, or to attend a transcendental meditation program. All of the participants continued to receive their normal medical care as well, including appropriate medication.
After roughly five years of follow-up, the researchers found a 48% reduction in the overall risk of heart attack, stroke, and death from any cause among members of the meditation group compared to those from the health education group. The meditating group also enjoyed a more pronounced drop in systolic blood pressure compared to the control group, and even reported less stress and anger. The power of meditation was like a new class of medication for these people.
More (99!) reasons to meditate, this time from The Chopra Center:
Convinced you should be meditating, but wondering where to start? Check out The Alternative Daily’s overview of guided meditations. Or better yet, take advantage of this free event that I just signed up for myself….
Inner RICHES MEDITATION EXPERIENCE
If you are tuned to the frequency of your inner riches, you will attract good vibes, feelings and outcomes on autopilot – no matter what’s going on in your life. But if that’s not the case, then you might need to re-tune yourself for a richer reality. And here’s something to help you do that:
It’s a 9-day Inner Riches Meditation Experience by spiritual explorer and Inc. 500 entrepreneur Amish Shah and his wife, certified yoga instructor Dr. Puja Shah. Amish and Puja have spent two decades studying mind science, ancient consciousness-expanding practices, and dormant human abilities. And they’ve applied their findings by helping over 70,000 people through Project:Yourself —a global human potential movement.
This couple is a world-class authority on the subject of holistic success. And in this acclaimed meditation experience, they fuse science and spirit in a fascinating way to help you overcome your inner blocks. Over 9 days, you’ll get one immersive guided meditation session per day and one mind-body-spirit tool or exercise you can use for an instant boost of perspective, creativity and intuition.
Interested? Learn more and sign up here.
And this event has already started, but replays are available for 72 hrs, so you could still catch some of the presentations…..
- 1 email a day, featuring 2 fantastic experts and their 30 minute interview
- Valuable free gifts from every expert
- Amazing stories, tips and tools you can be doing RIGHT NOW and EVERY DAY for your family’s optimum health and wellness
- Steps and professional advice you can follow on a daily basis to have the health and wellness for your family you have always wanted!
p.s. Be sure to subscribe to Self-help Health so you don’t miss any future posts. Also check out the To Your Health page at my website Evolution Made Easier and blog of the same name for more helpful information, tips, tools and resources.
Disclaimer: Please note that any information here is provided as a guideline only, and is not meant to substitute for the advice of your physician, nutritionist, trained healthcare practitioner, and/or inner guidance system. Always consult a professional before undertaking any change to your normal health routine.