Welcome to the first part of our short blog series, Benefits of Meditation!
Okay, so unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of some of the health benefits associated with meditation, right? One of the most impressive, to those who like tangible, measurable results, is a Harvard study that found 8 weeks of meditation can lead to measurable increases in brain regions associated with memory, empathy, and sense of self.
Sara Lazar, Ph.D is an Associate Researcher in the Psychiatry Department at Massachusetts General Hospital and an Assistant Professor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School, and has been spearheading research into the benefits of Yoga and Meditation for over a decade. An MRI study led by Lazar was the first of it’s kind to document meditation-produced changes in the brain’s grey matter over time.
“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. 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.” (Harvard)
Previous studies have shown that there is a noticeable difference in the brain structure between those who meditate and those who do not, but were unable to prove that the difference was correlated to meditation.
For this study, an MRI (magnetic resonance image) was taken of the participants brain two weeks before and two weeks after attending an eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. Participants also attended weekly meetings, and were given an audio guided meditation to practice on their own. A control group was also present in the study, who did not partake in meditation.
Participants spent an average of 27 minutes meditating daily. Here’s what researchers found:
- An increase in grey-matter density of the hippocampus, an important area for learning and memory, as well as an increase in associated structures dealing with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.
- A decrease in grey-matter density of the amygdala, which plays a significant role in anxiety and stress
The impressive part? None of the control group participants experienced these changes.
This is only one of many studies that show the direct health benefits of meditation – of which we will continue to explore in this series. Those who meditate regularly do not need to be shown the evidence, it can be felt rather quickly, but the research these great minds are doing only helps us to spread the wonderful practice to others!
Ready to start a meditation practice of your own? Visit our article – Meditation Basics!
How has meditation changed your life? Let us know in the comments below!