In present day, however, meditation is also being used by neuroscientists to improve grey matter in the brain.
Research on Meditation and the Brain
Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General and Harvard Medical School, and a team of researchers decided to explore claims about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness and test them in brain scans to see if there was any truth to it. Their hypothesis was that “meditation practice might also be associated with changes in the brain’s physical structure.”
The findings of their study showed that a long-term meditation practice created more prefrontal cortical thickness, or grey matter, in “brain regions associated with attention, interception and sensory processing,” particularly in older participants. This lead the researchers to believe that “meditation might offset age-related cortical thinning,” meaning that meditation could serve as a preventative measure for Alzheimer’s and dementia.
In fact, even though science has shown that the cortex typically shrinks with age, the 50-year-old participants in a second study who had a long-term meditation practice had the same amount of grey matter as 25-year-olds.
The Benefits of Meditation
In a Washington Post interview with Sara Lazar, the lead researcher on the meditation study, she detailed 5 primary benefits of meditation that her team discovered:
- A thickening of the “posterior cingulate, which is involved in mind wandering, and self-relevance.”
- A thickening of the “left hippocampus, which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation.”
- A thickening of the “temporo parietal junction, or TPJ, which is associated with perspective taking, empathy and compassion.”
- A thickening of a part of the brainstem called “the Pons, where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced.”
- A thinning of the “amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety, fear and stress in general.” This change was connected to a reduction in stress experienced by the participants with a meditation practice.
All of these findings lead Lazar’s team to conclude that there are major brain-boosting benefits to implementing a daily meditation practice. In fact, her team noticed the results start to appear in participants after just 8 weeks of implementing a daily meditation practice.
How to Meditate
As part of the Lifestyle360 Program, which is part of our Indiana communities, we offer residents the opportunity to learn Meditative Techniques to enhance their spiritual wellness. Although it can help to have a guide to walk you through meditation, you can start a meditation practice at home on your own as well.
- Commit to sitting quietly in a quiet, comfortable space twice a day. Turn off the lights, unplug the phone and limit all of your distractions.
- Start small. Sit quietly at first for two minutes (you can set a timer) and then see if you can slowly tack on a minute with each new day.
- Keep a journal and write down anything that pops up once your session is over. This can include how you are feeling both physically and emotionally, as well as what you are thinking. It will help you track your progress as you continue your practice.
- If you have trouble quieting your mind at first, don’t get discouraged! They call it a practice for a reason, and the more you do it the easier it will get.
There are a significant amount of benefits that meditation can provide family caregivers as well. It can help to prevent caregiver burnout, reduce anxiety and stress and help you to create a better sense of life balance.