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The Science Behind…your brain and meditation

Talia Zitner

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Meditation- it’s not just for hippies! New scientific research is suggesting that meditation could actually change the overall function of the human brain.

Meditation is the process of checking in with the state of the body and the mind through stillness and anchors. The easiest way to meditate is to sit, stand, or lay down in a quiet place where one feels comfortable. The eyes can be left open or closed! Anchors can include the breath, a sound (like the ticking of a clock), or an unmoving object. Guided meditations can be helpful at first to get a sense of what meditating can be like. They can be found online, on YouTube, or even on Spotify!

While meditating can be seen as “just sitting quietly,” scientists have begun to experiment with the possible health benefits that can be reaped from meditating. One of the easiest examples of this is related to stress. A study published in Biological Psychiatry describes an experiment in which they selected 35 unemployed men and women looking for jobs, which can cause large amounts of stress. Over the course of the experiment, “…half the subjects were then taught formal mindfulness meditation at a residential retreat center; the rest completed a kind of sham mindfulness meditation that was focused on relaxation and distracting oneself from worries and stress.” After the study was completed, all the participants reported that they,“…felt refreshed and better able to withstand the stress of unemployment.” However, when post brain scans were done, it was found that there was more communication in parts of the brain that control stress-related reactions, as well as areas controlling focus and calm. These changes only occurred in the people that had practiced the “real” mindfulness and meditation. When a follow up was done four months later, the group that had practiced mindfulness had much lower levels of an unhealthy inflammation in their blood than the relaxation group.

Along with lowering dangerous levels of stress, meditation can actually change the density of the gray-matter in the brain! New research to be published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, states that, “…those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.” Gray-matter is important because it processes information in the brain. The gray-matter also transport nutrients and energy to the neurons, which helps the brain function on a higher level!

While you may not want to sit in class and chant “Om” over and over, looking into meditation to manage everyday stress may be helpful. Who knows, maybe you’ll even change your whole brain!

IMAGE COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA

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The Science Behind…your brain and meditation