According to a study conducted by a Harvard affiliated team at Massachusetts General Hospital, meditation has actual effects on human brain structure. The people participating in this study attended an 8 week program of mindfulness meditation. After the completion of the program they were subjected to MRI scans, which proved that meditation causes major changes in the brain’s gray matter.
The gray matter serves to process information in the brain and in this way, to pass the right instructions from the brain to all the organs. Keeping in mind that the majority of illnesses are derived by wrong messages from the brain, it is obvious the crucial role that gray matter plays in our health!
Meditation practitioners have always been claiming that apart from the sense of serenity and relaxation, meditation also offers long lasting cognitive and psychological benefits. This claim is totally supported by the findings of this study. As study senior author Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology points out, meditation appears to be responsible for several changes in areas of the brain associated with memory, attention and emotional integration.
More specifically, this study shows that 27 minutes of daily meditation are enough to induce significant changes to the brain’s gray matter. The MRI scans found increased gray matter density in the hippocampus, an area linked with self-awareness, compassion and introspection. This increase of gray matter density in the hippocampus entails a decrease of density in the amygdala; the area responsible for controlling anxiety and stress responses. It is worth mentioning that these changes only occurred to the people who practiced meditation and not to the control group. Thus, scientists can safely assume that meditation was the variable that led to these results.
Britta Hölzel, a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany, states that the brain’s plasticity is remarkable and exceeds by far scientists’ expectations. It is now scientifically proven what meditation practitioners have been arguing for years concerning the power of meditation. We are capable of improving our brains and consequently, improving our well-being and quality of life.
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