For centuries, people from different cultures across the globe believed that practices involving mind power have a profound impact on the human brain and the entire body. Mind strengthening exercises were known to alleviate pain, anxiety, depression, reduce stress and boost immunity, while helping build emotional stability, positivity, and compassion.
Meditation, a practice dating back as early as the 5th and 6th centuries, as referenced in the Vedas, was said to contribute to human intelligence, self-control, and aid in weight loss.
Today, thanks to advances in technology such as MRI, the long reported benefits of meditation has finally become measurable and provable. This new information has helped many previous sceptics become open and curious to experience the positive effects of meditation for themselves.
A Breakthrough Discovery By A Harvard University Neuroscientist
In 2011, Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist from Harvard University, conducted a study to find out whether meditation can cause physical changes in the human brain.
The study reported noticeable changes in the brain’s grey matter after 8 weeks, due to a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is a natural brain’s response to the changing circumstances, new skills and thought patterns – in other words, it is how brain restructures itself as a result what it learns and is exposed to.
8 Weeks To A Smarter Brain
For the current study, two groups of participants had magnetic resonance (MR) images were taken of the brain structure two weeks before and after they took part in the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness.
One group attended weekly mediation meetings that were focused of mindfulness and non-judgmental awareness. The participants also received audio recordings for to practice guided meditation at home. The other group was given no meditation experience.
After the test both groups MR images were compared. The control group of non-meditators showed no increase in grey matter that was present in the meditators group; it was clear that the changes had not resulted merely from the passage of time.
The study has found that meditation caused changes in gray matter in four regions of the brain, in particular:
1. Posterior cingulate: Area involved in mind wandering and self-relevance.
2. The hippocampus: Area connected to learning, cognition, memory and spacial regulation.
3. The temporoparietal junction (TPJ). Area responsible for perspective taking, empathy and compassion.
4. Pons. Area of the brain stem where a large amount of regulatory neurotransmitters is produced.
5. Amygdala. The area related to anxiety, fear and stress, as well as the ‘fight or flight’ response. That area got smaller in the group that went through the mindfulness-based stress reduction program. The change in the amygdala also correlated to a reduction in stress levels.
6. Prefrontal cortex: a part of the brain that regulates decision making, problem solving, control of purposeful behaviors, consciousness, and emotions.
The conclusion: in only 8 weeks of a mindful practice, a brain can ‘upgrade’ its structure, which is linked to many real life benefits, some of which are listed below.
Decreased levels of
Enhanced levels of
*ability to pay attention
* quality of life
Today, meditation is increasingly becoming an integral practice in mainstream society, thanks to the insight of science researchers such as Sara Lazar and many others. Practicing meditation not only enhances your health and everyday performance, but also the ability to concentrate and make decisions, which can create a real difference in your private and business life.