Meditating Changes the Brain and Changes Your Life

Depression, anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, etc., meditation seems to be adorned with a thousand virtues. Stung by all these allegations, researcher Sara Lazar of Harvard Medical University wanted to get to the bottom of it and conducted extensive studies to measure the real effects of this practice on the brain and on general health. . The results are more than conclusive.

Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, was one of the first scientists to take seriously anecdotal claims about the benefits of so-called “mindfulness” meditation, going so far as to conduct studies, MRI of the brain in support to disentangle the true from the false. What she found was a real surprise, meditation literally changes your brain.

The first study conducted by Dr. Laza examined seasoned meditators versus a control group. The study showed that experienced meditators have an increased amount of gray matter in the insula (part of the brain associated with pain processes as well as several basic emotions like anger, fear, disgust, joy or sadness), sensory regions, auditory and sensory cortex. This could be explained by the very practice of meditation which encourages paying attention to the breath, to the sounds, to the experience of the present moment. The senses being solicited, the parts of the brain related to these functions are therefore improved.

As much gray matter at 50 as at 25

It was also found to have more gray matter in the frontal cortex (part associated with memory and decision-making). It is well documented that our cortex shrinks as we age. With age, it becomes more difficult to understand things and to remember things. But in this region of the prefrontal cortex, 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of gray matter as 25-year-olds.

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Wanting to be sure that people with more gray matter at the end of this study simply didn’t have more before they started meditating, Dr. Lazar undertook new research.

5 parts of the brain change in just eight weeks

She selected people who had never meditated before and set up an eight-week meditation stress reduction program versus another group doing nothing special.

At the end of this program, she found differences in brain volume in five different brain regions of the group of meditators. In the group that learned meditation, there was thickening in four regions of the brain and decrease in volume in one particular region:

  • The main difference, was found in the posterior cingulate (an area at the back of the cortex), which is involved in concentration and self-awareness.
  • The left hippocampus, which helps with learning, cognition, emotional regulation, recollection and orientation in space.
  • The temporo-parietal junction, or TPJ, associated with taking a step back, empathy and compassion.
  • A region of the brain stem called the pons, where many neurotransmitters are produced. Within the central nervous system, the pons plays an important role in motor skills, in particular because of its relay position between the brain and the cerebellum, but also contributes to facial sensitivity and autonomic functions.
  • The amygdala, the part of the brain related to anxiety, fear and stress in general. This area decreased in the group that followed the attention-based stress reduction program. The change in the amygdala has also been correlated with reduced stress levels.
  • These data show changes in the brain after only eight weeks.

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    As part of a meditation-based stress reduction program, the subjects attended a weekly class. They were given a “mindfulness” meditation and told to practice 40 minutes a day at home. That’s all.

    In fact, some people practiced 40 minutes almost every day. Some people practiced less. Some only a few times a week. The average was 27 minutes per day.

    Depression, anxiety, insomnia, pain, addiction, meditation has the answer

    Other previous studies have already shown the real benefits of such a practice on the quality of life and the pathologies and symptoms related to malaise.

    Reduction of stress, reduction of depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia, better quality of life, meditation is a real simple and concrete lever to live better, naturally. A large body of research has established the effectiveness of meditation in reducing symptoms of a number of disorders, including anxiety (Roemer et al., 2008), depression (Teasdale et al., 2000), substance abuse (Bowen et al., 2006), eating disorders (Tapper et al., 2009) and chronic pain (Grossman et al., 2007), as well as improved well-being and quality of life (Carmody and Baer, ​​2008). Meditation involves developing awareness of present moment experience with a compassionate, non-judgmental attitude (Kabat-Zinn, 1990).




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