The ‘meditation-and-the-brain’ research has been growing in interest & popularity for a number of years now, with new studies coming out just about every week to illustrate some new benefit of meditation. Or, rather, some ancient benefit that is just now being confirmed!
Below are some of the most interesting studies to come out in the last few years and show that meditation really does produce measurable changes in our most important organ – the brain!
There’s good evidence from these studies that meditation helps relieve our subjective levels of anxiety and depression, and improve attention, concentration, and overall psychological well-being.
Meditation Helps Preserve the Aging Brain
A recent study from the University of California (UCLA) found that long-term meditators had better-preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged. Participants who’d been meditating for an average of 20 years had more grey matter volume throughout the brain. And it’s NEVER too late to start!
Its Effects Rival Antidepressants for Depression & Anxiety
A study last year at Johns Hopkins University looked at the relationship between mindfulness meditation and its ability to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain. When practiced regularly, its effectiveness was comparable with the effects of taking medication. Meditation isn’t a magic bullet for depression, as no treatment is, but it is one of the tools that can help manage symptoms naturally!
Meditation May Lead to Volume Changes in Key Areas of the Brain
In 2011, a Harvard study concluded that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain: Eight weeks of Mindfulness Meditation was found to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory.
There were also decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress – and these changes matched the participants’ self-reports of their stress levels, indicating that meditation not only changes the neuroplasticity of the brain, but it changes our psychological wellbeing, enabling us to cope better with life.
Just a Few Days of Training Improves Concentration and Attention
Interestingly but not surprisingly, one of the central benefits of meditation is that it improves attention and concentration: One recent study found that just a couple of weeks of meditation training helped people’s focus and memory during tests & exams.
Since the strong focus of attention (on an object, idea, or activity) is one of the central aims of meditation, it’s not so surprising that meditation should help people’s cognitive skills on the job, too!
Meditation Reduces Anxiety — and Social Anxiety
Research has also shown that mindfulness meditation, in contrast to attending to the breath only, can reduce anxiety.
Meditation Can Help with Bad Habits
A growing number of studies has shown that, given its effects on the self-control regions of the brain, meditation can be very effective in helping people recover from various types of habits.
Worth a Try?
Meditation is not a panacea, but there’s certainly a lot of evidence that it may make profound positive changes for those who practice it regularly. Also, its benefits seem to be felt after a relatively short amount of practice.
If it is of interest to you to learn more, I am running a ‘Meditation Made Easy’ class in Stockbridge. Get in touch if you would like more information.