Many people who practice meditation strongly stand behind their practice, noting the many benefits that they notice within themselves from meditating.
What happens inside of the brain when a person meditates? Neuroscientists in many labs have sought to better understand this by conducting brain imaging studies, one of which we feature in a related blog post. Overwhelmingly, studies confirm that changes occur in our brain when we train ourselves to slow down, focus on the present, eliminate distractions, and gain control of our thinking, such as in meditation (also referred to, commonly, as mindfulness). Furthermore, these changes are associated with many positive outcomes that we notice.
One neuroimaging study published in 2012 looked at emotional regulation in subjects who participated in a meditation training program. The research was designed to study brain activity and emotional response after learning to meditate, as others had done before, but this had built upon previous research by studying the effects of meditation when no longer meditating. Similar to previous research, meditation training was found to decrease activation in the amygdala in response to emotional stimuli. The authors state that this was the first study to demonstrate a generalized (post-mediation) response in the brain, which they attribute to the meditation training. A subsequent study in 2014 confirmed that the results were due to meditation and not just the passage of time. According to a summary of the latter research, “The participants spent an average of 27 minutes per day practicing mindfulness exercises, and this is all it took to stimulate a major increase in gray matter density in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.”
Another study found that those who regularly practice meditation have lower activity in the medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortex (the default mode network) which is implicated in many areas of brain health, including ADHD, anxiety, and even in the buildup of beta amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s disease.
Examples of other recently-published summaries of neuroscience research investigating the effect of meditation on our health, thinking, and emotions worth checking out can be found here, here and here. We also plan to devote more posts to this topic in the near future, so please check back. If you would like to see specific studies featured on this blog, please let us know by clicking here.