Meditation has been deemed a “super practice,” one of which can fix a multitude of ailments and issues including reducing stress and disease (including cancer). It also slows the aging process, increases concentration, productivity, compassion and calmness. These are just to name a few, but what it all comes down to – because it’s what we all want – is that a regular mediation practice increases happiness.
If you are currently a regular meditator, you undoubtedly have experienced the benefits. What most people are not aware of, however, is what happening in the brain and body during meditation, i.e., what physiological effects are occurring. Although yogins and many other groups of people have been meditating for thousands of years, the western world has recently caught the buzz and has offered some nice bits of research regarding what really goes on as we meditate. Here are some pretty cool findings:
This term generally refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize (i.e., change itself) physically and functionally to adapt to life’s circumstances. This research is quite new but super exciting – prior thinking held the belief that after a certain age, we were basically going to have to deal with what we were given. So, what does this mean for mediators? It means that much like practicing a sport, through practicing mindfulness, we can “train” our brains to change. Yes, we create happiness and it can also be measured! Renowned neuroscientist Richie Davidson says that research is showing that as little as 30 minutes of mediation per day can produce measurable changes.
Gray matter is a component of the central nervous system, which is made up of both white and gray matter. Gray matter is mostly composed of neuronal cell bodies and dendrites. The areas of the brain where increased gray matter was noted in long-term meditators in a recent study (Luders, Cherbuin, Kurth, 2015) included: the Hippocampus, the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) and the Prefrontal Cortex. These areas of the brain control the limbic system (our emotional seat), learning and memory, planning, problem solving, emotional control, attention control and emotional flexibility.
PTSD patients will show a considerable reduction in the volume of the hippocampus; this is where the most significant neurological impact of trauma is seen. Another added bonus of meditating in speaking of these areas of the brain: because meditation increases attention control, not only is it helpful in the areas of productivity and test taking, but it has also been shown to help with cases of ADD. Not surprisingly, the number of adults diagnosed with ADD continue to increase.