Chasing your thoughts around all day long can be exhausting and stressful. Feeling controlled by your emotions instead of the other way around? Harvard Neuroscientists have proven that daily meditation can change the physical makeup of your brain and thus your thought patterns in a real way.
Having a restless, stressed out mind is a symptom of our general human condition. But when meditation is proposed as a way to fix it – we balk. How could that work? What good could it really do, scientifically? Turns out – a lot.
A recent Harvard study has proven that meditation can in fact change our brain matter in a highly beneficial way. It can alter the size of key regions, improving our memory and making us more empathetic, compassionate, and resilient under stress.
The study took two groups – one daily meditators and the other not — and compared their regions of the brain and the gray matter within. After only 8 weeks of meditation practice, indeed the brain scans show noticeable changes.
Magnetic resonance images (MRI scans) of everyone’s brains were taken before and after they completed the meditation training, and a control group of people who didn’t do any meditation also had their brains scanned. After completing the meditation course, all participants reported significant improvement in measures of mindfulness, such as “acting with awareness” and “non-judging.”
Even more enlightening was that the MRI scans showed changes in the brain’s ‘ gray matter’ (the regions of the brain involved in muscle control and sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control). The meditating groups increased gray matter concentration within the brain regions involved in learning and memory, emotion regulation, sense of self, and perspective analysis.
The data concludes that meditation benefits those suffering from psychological issues such as depression, anxiety disorders and insomnia. But even more promising – it can improve your overall quality of life.
Dr. Sara Lazar, part of the Harvard study, states: “Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day.”
How this happens has to do with the brain and its ‘neuroplasticity’, which is the ability neurons have to change they way they talk to each other with differing experiences. The messages the neurons send began to change when a daily meditation practice started.
Britta Hölzel, the lead author on the paper states: “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.”
Another Harvard alum, Dr. John Denninger, is leading a 5-year study that builds on these findings and takes them one step further to the body as well and how meditation can affect genes and brain activity in the chronically stressed. His latest work follows a study he and others published earlier this year showing how so-called mind-body techniques can switch on and off some genes linked to stress and immune function.
“There is a true biological effect,” said Denninger. “The kinds of things that happen when you meditate do have effects throughout the body, not just in the brain.”
In other words – meditation equals a win/win for us all. Mind, Body and Soul.
By: Sara E. Morrow