How Meditation Changes Your Brain: A Neuroscientist Explains

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There’s been an outpouring of research into meditation in recent decades – Harvard and Stanford University now even have departments dedicated to the subject! And it’s in line with this trend that new research has re-confirmed the amazing potential benefits of regular meditative practice.

In an interesting and insightful article, Dr. Sarah McKay, an Oxford-educated neuroscientist, outlines how a new study shows that regular practice can have a physical effect on the brain after eight weeks. That’s right, just eight weeks!

The research, conducted by a Dr Sara Lazar, monitored sixteen people who enrolled on an eight-week mindfulness course. They were asked to meditate for 45 minutes every day using a pre-selected recording.

fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans were taken before and after the trial, measuring the flow of blood (and so the activity) in certain areas of the brain. These were then compared to scans of a control group.

Though all participants reported feeling better – citing improved emotional wellbeing, what was startling was that the group of meditators, compared to the control group, actually showed increased grey matter in the areas of their brains associated with emotional regulation, happiness and a sense of one’s perspective.

The phenomenon underlying this remarkable outcome, known as neuroplasticity, describes how our brains can adapt and change in structure. Rather than being fixed and unchangeable, certain activities can actually alter the way our neural pathways are wired!

If you’ve ever struggled with meditation, or have found your discipline lacking, then this research should act as a strong incentive to keep you on the cushion!


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