Meditation has long been a practice by which to relax and find inner calm, but how does it affect one’s brain? Studies show new evidence of the positive effects of meditation on the brain in regard to areas associated with emotions and memories as well as concentration. Neuroscience research has shown that meditation and mindfulness training can create neoplastic changes to the gray matter of
your brain and improve overall brain function.
A study conducted by Harvard researchers gave participants 45 minute guided mindfulness exercises consisting of yoga and sitting meditation. The participants were instructed to practice daily at home. Upon completion of the mindfulness course, all participants reported significant improvement in measures of mindfulness such as “acting with awareness. Also, MRI scans showed that the participants experienced increased gray matter concentration within the:
the posterior cingulate cortex
the temporo-pariotal junction, and
These regions of the brain are involved in learning and memory, emotion regulation, sense of self, and perspective taking, thus proving that mediation is quite healthy in brain development. Meditation can be a way of cleaning out the cobwebs and helping one become more aware of their own surroundings and actions as they happen.
The lead author of one of these studies, Britta Hozel, says “It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.” Harvard neuroscientists found that after only 8 weeks of meditation practice brain structure started to change.
Meanwhile, another study conducted by the University of Oslo, led by Sven Davenger investigated what happens in casual resting as opposed to Acem mediation, -a type of meditation which came about in Norway. Acem meditation is used as a non-religious technique that focuses on mentally repeating a word in order to relax the mind and body. The method does not seek to reach any particular state of consciousness the way Zen Buddhism does, but instead allows thoughts to come and go from the mind as they become absorbed by the mantra.
The study measured 14 participants who are experienced in Acem and they underwent functional MRI testing to measure brain activity during 3 different states: Non directive meditation such as Acem which allows fleeting thoughts provided the mantra is repeated; open monitoring which allows the person to experience whatever random thoughts come to their mind, and focused attention in which the person deliberately tries to prevent random thoughts and focuses solely on their breathing.
One long term benefit the study found is the ability to reduce the number of times the mind wanders during focused attention exercise. The research points to enhanced awareness and overall stimulation of brain function, so if you wish to become more mentally aware meditation techniques may be a way to enhance your concentration skills.