Science is showing exactly how meditators’ minds are affected by this stress-relieving practice.
by ANDREA FERRETTI
For years, long-time meditators just wished we would all take their word for it: They felt happier and healthier, not only now, but as they aged. With the advent of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalogram (EEG), the science is catching up with the lore. What’s being revealed is that the brain is more plastic than was once thought—if you put time and effort into training it.
Two studies in particular have demonstrated that meditation has the capacity to change the structure of the brain and to combat the degeneration that naturally happens as we age:
The first was published in 2011 in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging. A team of scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital found that after an eight-week mindfulness meditation course, study participants had measurable changes in their brains. Scientists saw more grey matter in the hippocampus, an area associated with learning and memory and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.
Increased grey matter is considered a sign that an area of the brain is more powerful or efficient at processing information. Interestingly, the participants in the study who self-reported less daily stress after the study had decreased grey matter density in the amygdala, the area of the brain that’s associated with stress and anxiety.
The second study, published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2015, demonstrated that participants who’d been meditating for an average of 20 years had less brain gray matter atrophy as they aged. Scientists are hoping that this could be beneficial for attention, memory, processing speed, overall cognitive flexibility and more.
Admittedly 20 years of meditating is a long time. So, ahem, what are you waiting for? All you have to do is sit, stay, watch, repeat.