Science Studies Ancient Art of Meditation

Neuroscientists and biologists have long been curious about what effects meditation might have on the brain but had no way of investigating its effects---until now. In new studies scientists used functional MRI's to be able to see inside the brain itself. What they saw was startling. Meditation changed the brain.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Germany studied a group of people new to meditation. After only eight weeks of meditating 27 minutes a day they found changes in gray matter in the brain. The brain grew in the hippocampus, an area associated with compassion, self-awareness, introspection, memory and learning. The images showed a thinning out of the amygdala which is associated with stress and anxiety.

This is the first study the showed meditation causes measureable changes in the brain.

Yale university researchers are finding that meditators day dream less, and less day dreaming is associated with an increase in happiness. Using fMRI's they found decreased activity in a part of the brain called the default network. This brain area is associated with lapses in attention, ADHD, anxiety, and even with the buildup of beta amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease.

At the University of Wisconsin Dr Richard Davidson has been investigating the brain's basis for emotion. According to "On Wisconsin", Dr Davidson "has largely redefined how scientists think about emotion, showing that the natural malleability of the brain extends to emotion as well - and that it can be trained toward greater attention, awareness, and even happiness through mental practice."

The Mayo Clinic calls meditation a fast and effective way to manage stress. Calling it a mind-body complementary medicine, the authors noted that meditation is easy and can be practiced in all kinds of settings---waiting for a bus, in the middle of a tense meeting, wherever meditation is needed.

Other studies are showing that people who meditate can handle pain in a better manner because of their ability to pay attention. Using lasers to create pain long time meditators suffered less distress because they showed the least anticipation of the laser pain. The study published in the journal "Pain" said people who meditate "showed unusual activity during anticipation of pain in part of the prefrontal cortex, a brain region known to be involved in controlling attention and thought processes when potential threats are perceived."

Researchers are also pointing to meditation as a method to tap into creativity.

Noting that meditation is getting more popular researchers at universities in Australia and Norway have been researching what happens to brain waves when you meditate.

It's clear that with meditation you can find relief from stress and new studies are showing that even more good effects can be linked to meditation. By taking time to slow down, to focus, to be in the present moment---in other words, to meditate---you create an environment for creativity, emotional change, pain management and many other positive results. Remember there is not just one way to meditate. Find out what works for you and begin your practice today.