Proving the Benefits of Meditation
Mindful meditation is a type of meditation (which is an exercise of deep, prolonged concentration) during which any feelings, emotions or thoughts are experienced as and when they arise during the exercise, opposed to after the meditation finishes. This practice teaches us about our unresolved issues that prick us when we are busy, and we may not even know what they are.
According to the latest research, participating in a mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. MRI scans documented how meditation produced massive changes inside the brain’s gray matter.
A study led by a Harvard-affiliated team of researchers based at Massachusetts General Hospital has the evidence to prove the claim that people really do feel better after practicing meditation. Senior study author Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology said:
“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.”
Test subjects taking part in an 8-week program of mindfulness meditation showed results that astonished even the most experienced neuroscientists at Harvard University. The participants spent an average of 27 minutes per day practicing mindfulness exercises. This was all it took to stimulate a major increase in gray matter density in the hippocampus, the part of the brain 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 was seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.
Mindful meditation has great potential to protect against stress-related disorders also, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. The brain’s plasticity is amazing, and we are just beginning to realize the potential of increasing our well-being and quality of life by taking an active role in changing the brain thru meditation exercises.
Mindfulness is a wonderful tool with overall health benefits and most people find it easy to learn, regardless of physical ability or age. Consider meditation as a supporting therapy for many mental health disorders and discuss the possibilities with your personal health care provider.
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