Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Meditation Physically Changes the Mind

"Clarity" - a pastel drawing I did about meditation

A new study led by Harvard researchers used mind scans to track the physical changes made to participants' brains over 8 weeks of a daily meditation practice. Sue McGreevey for Harvard Science described the study and its findings:
Meditation group participants reported spending an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements compared with pre-participation responses. The analysis of MR images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.

Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. Although no change was seen in a self-awareness-associated structure called the insula, which had been identified in earlier studies, the authors suggest that longer-term meditation practice might be needed to produce changes in that area. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.

“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,” says Britta H√∂lzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. “Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.” (Source)
I'm excited that this study is lending more validity to meditation being worthwhile.

It took me 8 or 9 years since I first tried meditation to make it a regular habit in my life. I've still got lots of the same problems I always did with social anxiety and over-thinking everything, but it has helped me to relax, to get in touch with feelings I kept ignoring, to forgive my mistakes, to learn to love myself, to learn to be present with my breath, and to choose where I place my mental attention.

There's no better way to realize the thoughts that are holding you back or to open yourself up to creativity than to be in a state of meditation. It's enabled me to be creative at a level of intensity that I simply would not have been able to keep up in the past.

I'm also grateful to be at a point in my meditation practice where I don't feel like I'm forcing my mind into relaxation, or trying to wrestle with my thoughts. Now I can just close my eyes, take a deep breath, and enter immediately into a state of peaceful observation.

Have you tried meditation or do you meditate regularly? If so, I'm interested to hear your experience with it.

Related posts:
My Path from Baptist to Psychic/Shaman
In Which I Wax Philosophical about Life, the Universe, and Everything

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