Science is finally proving what Buddhist monks have known for millenia, that people who practice meditation daily can permanently alter the way their brain functions. The simple act of shifting your attention to your breath, as you sit quietly, not cultivates a regenerative peace of mind, but new scientific studies have proven that this ancient practice can bring about profound change in the way the different regions of the brain interact with each other, and therefore, effect the way we feel, and how we think.
The Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Judson Brewer, published a study finding that meditation appears to alter the way the brain works, in ways that could give meditators an advantage, not only with handling stress, but also with addressing illness and finding happiness.
“Understanding how meditation works will aid investigation into a host of diseases. We know that meditation has been shown to help in variety of health problems, such as helping people quit smoking, cope with cancer, and even prevent psoriasis,” says Brewer.
Assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, Eileen Luders, found that meditation physically alters the brain, and that long term meditation practioners have a larger amount of “folding” of the brain’s cortex, allowing the brain to process information faster.
“The insula in the cortex has been suggested to function as a hub for autonomic, affective and cognitive integration, and meditators are known to be masters in introspection and awareness as well as emotional control and self-regulation, so the findings make sense that the longer someone has meditated, the higher the degree of folding in the insula.” states Professor Eileen Luders
Professor Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist, compared the brains of 20 long term meditators with 15 non-meditators. In the brain scans, it was shown that meditation changes the size of the regions of the brain known for improving memory, empathy, and resiliency when under stress. The meditators also had an increased thickness in the regions of the brain involving sensory processing and attention. The pre-frontal cortex, a region of the brain that normally shrinks with age, was also thicker in elderly meditators, suggesting that meditation could help delay the aging process.
Indeed meditation is much more than just a way to calm thoughts and lower stress levels. A combined research study between the Norwegian University of Science and Technology at the University of Oslo, and the University of Sydney, found that during meditation, the brain is able to better process emotions, allowing for more compassion, and a deeper feeling of connection with the community.
By shifting one’s attention to each slow and deep breath, a shift is made into a peace of mind that allows the ego to quiet, and the mind to release it’s clutter. The result of this shift in consciousness is serenity, peace of mind, and creative inspiration.
Science has now proven that through meditation, we can make gains towards better health, and improvements in the way we think and feel. By learning to focus on the present moment, we can suppress our wandering and egotistical thoughts, that constantly invade our consciousness and emotions. A mere twenty minutes spent in mindfulness meditation will give you the power to overcome your problems, and allow you to make permanent change.
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