There is mounting evidence from researchers at leading research institutions about the benefits of meditation for brain health and function. One of the latest series of studies, from researchers at Harvard, was explained at length in the Washington Post. The short story – meditation improves brain function and grows the brain in important ways.
Sara Lazar is a neuroscientist with Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. After using yoga personally to some benefit, she began conducting research on the ways in which the brain responds to meditation. The results she found were astounding. She explained these findings to the Washington Post.
We found differences in brain volume after eight weeks [of meditation] in five different regions in the brains of the two groups. In the group that learned meditation, we found thickening in four regions:
The primary difference, we found in theposterior cingulate, which is involved in mind wandering, and self-relevance.
The left hippocampus, which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation.
The temporo parietal junction, or TPJ, which is associated with perspective taking, empathy and compassion.
An area of the brain stem called thePons, where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced.
The amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety,fear and stress in general. That area got smaller in the group that went through the mindfulness-based stress reduction program.
The change in the amygdala was also correlated to a reduction in stress levels.
These findings are important for addiction treatment. They mean that a primary focus of addiction treatment, along with treating the underlying causes of the addiction (generally trauma or pain), must be on building a healthy brain. For example, one of the areas in which meditation helps with is the hippocampus of the brain, the area that controls emotional regulation. Along with psychotherapy, meditation helps addicts control their emotions, so that they don’t have to use over them. When other areas of the brain are developed, self-esteem can flourish, along with becoming more thoughtful of others. In addicts, these are all areas of deficit, but if we can develop them – and the research shows that we can, in part through meditation – we can build healthy neurocircuitry and individuals better able to cope with their surroundings and life circumstances.
If you are not yet practicing meditation regularly, look into it …
I do it for a while then I don’t. If you keep coming back to it, the benefits are worth it. Keep trying. There are over 3,000 scientific studies on the benefits of meditation.
Here are 40 from an article titled 76 Scientific Benefits of Meditation.
- Mindfulness practices decrease depression
- Meditation practices help regulate mood and anxiety disorders
- Meditation reduces stress and anxiety in general
- Meditation helps reduce symptoms of panic disorder
- Meditation increases grey matter concentration in the brain
- Meditation acutely improves psychomotor vigilance, and may decrease sleep need
- Long-term meditation enhances the ability to generate gamma waves in the brain
- Meditation helps reduce alcohol and substance abuse
- Meditation improves your focus, attention, and ability to work under stress
- Meditation improves information processing and decision-making
- Meditation gives you mental strength, resilience and emotional intelligence
- Meditation makes you stronger against pain
- Meditation relieves pain better than morphine
- Meditation helps manage ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
- Meditation increases the ability to keep focus in spite of distractions
- Meditation improves learning, memory and self-awareness
- Mindfulness meditation improves rapid memory recall
- Meditation improves your mood and psychological well-being
- Meditation prevents you from falling in the trap of multitasking too often
- Meditation helps us allocate limited brain resources
- Meditation improves visuospatial processing and working memory
- Meditation prepares you to deal with stressful events
- Meditation increases awareness of your unconscious mind
- Mindfulness meditation fosters creativity
- Meditation reduces risk of heart diseases and stroke
- Meditation affects genes that control stress and immunity
- Meditation reduces blood pressure
- Mindfulness training decreases inflammatory disorders
- Mindfulness meditation decreases cellular-level inflammation
- Mindfulness practice helps prevent asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease
- Meditation and meditative prayer help treat premenstrual syndrome and menopausal symptoms
- Mindfulness meditation reduces risk of Alzheimer’s and premature death
- Mindfulness training is helpful for patients diagnosed with Fibromyalgia
- Meditation helps manage the heart rate and respiratory rate
- Meditation may make you live longer by promoting telomere maintenance
- Loving-kindness meditation (practice feeling benevolence and care towards all living beings) improves empathy and positive relationships
- Loving-kindness meditation also reduces social isolation
- Meditation increases feelings of compassion and decreases worry
- Mindfulness meditation decreases feelings of loneliness
- Meditation reduces emotional eating
I’m currently on a nice run of meditating every morning for more than a month. If you make meditation a regular thing, you can call it “a practice” rather than just saying you meditate sometimes. I now look forward to it and feel that I’m only just starting to feel the benefits of long term transformation. The best things for us often have no external rewards. No bells go off, no one pats you on the back, but if you pay attention, you will notice the benefits are self evident.
There are, however, some ways to get that external reinforcement to get you in to the practice. Some join meditation groups and meet in person to meditate. Insight Timer is a free app I currently use to meditate with other people around the world. The app gives you stars for consistently meditating. Give it a try.
It is definitely possible to create a strong positive habit.