Meditation improves your brain

Harvard Research shows the brain’s structure changes after only eight weeks of mediation practice.

04 Jun 2018

A group of Harvard neuroscientists were interested in mindfulness meditation because it had been reported to produce positive effects on psychological well-being that extended beyond the time the individual was actually meditating.

Sara Lazar, PhD, the study’s senior author, said:

'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.'

To see if mindfulness training had any measurable effect on the brain, 17 people were enrolled in an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course. The course promised to improve participants’ mindfulness and well-being, and reduce their levels of stress.

MRI scans of the people’s brains were taken before and after they completed the meditation course. A control group who didn’t do any mindfulness training also had their brains scanned.

Meditation group participants spent an average of 27 minutes a day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements compared with pre-participation responses. After the people completed the mindfulness course they all reported significant improvement in measures of mindfulness such as ‘acting with awareness’ and ‘non-judging’.

The brain images showed that, compared to the controls, the mindfulness groups had increased gray matter concentration within key parts of the brain. Grey matter is the part of the brain made up of nerve cell bodies.

Mindfulness training was associated with structural changes in brain regions involved in learning and memory, emotion regulation and sense of self.

Britta Hölzel, the lead author on the paper says:

'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.'

Sarah Lazar also noted:

'This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.'

So the simple take-home message from this piece of research: Practice your meditation - it will change your brain.

'This article originally appeared on the My Life Change website and has been reproduced with permission from Paul McKeon of Baby Boomers Life Change Pty Ltd'

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