The key to mindfulness or transcendental meditation is to open one's mind fully, allowing the data streams received from the physical environment, and images generated, to pass over your field of attention but not held in place.
When I first began meditation, I was trying to force my mind to be clear, which as many discover is impossible. Later I discovered, if I simply allow all my experience to pass over me, like watching a movie, then I could be the stillness in the storm of my thoughts. As a result, I noticed many of the beneficial effects discussed below.
The more one practices meditation the better they are able to focus and receive data streams, which are always being received by us, even if we are not aware of it, via the unconscious. We can recall these data streams via an active process of reflection, and contemplation, grounding the data into a complete understanding; a holistic knowledge base.
Meditation Can Grow
Your Brain in Just 8 Weeks
Boosting memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress
A team of researchers led by Dr. Lazar, a neurologist and instructor at Harvard medical school, has discovered that meditating for just 8 weeks can fuel grey-matter in the hippocampus and promote brain ‘growth’. More specifically, the practice of meditation can spark measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress.
For the study, 16 volunteers took part in Dr. Lazar’s ‘mindfulness’ course, with magnetic resonance (MR) images being taken 2 weeks before and after the study. After just 8 short weeks of practicing mindfulness meditation, her volunteers showed thicker grey matter in several important areas of the brain, including the left hippocampus, a small horseshoe-shaped structure in the central brain involved in memory, learning and emotional regulation.
Additional parts of the brain positively affected by just eight weeks of meditation were posterior the cingulate cortex – also important for memory and emotions; the temporoparietal junction, involved in empathy creation; and the cerebellum, which helps to coordinate movement.
Study senior author Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology, said:
“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day. This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”
Britta Hölzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany, said:
“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life. Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.”
Those who did not go take part in Dr. Lazar’s course experienced no such structural brain changes.
The meditation course seemed to cause the brain to form denser connections among important centers that regulate our behavior and help us to be ‘smart.’
This translates to all sorts of possible benefits – from handling stress better at work and in our lives, to conducting out responsibilities with more élan. Sure, you can cram for those finals, or beat your head against the wall trying to meet a deadline at work, but maybe some life-long meditative practices can help.
Her talk and pictures are highly motivating for those looking for an edge in their industry or who just need some extra oomph to get through their hectic lives.
You can see Dr. Lazar talk about her brain scans in a Ted Talks video here:
Meditation Allows for Focus, Concentration, Makes the Brain ‘Smarter’
A team of researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), the University of Oslo, and the University of Sydney conducted a study that appears in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
The coalition of researchers from Norway and Australia found that, in addition to less stress, more peace, greater self-awareness, and better concentration, participants whose brains were watched under MRI scans while they were practicing non-concentrative or non-directive meditation (one that is practiced in many modern teachings, and allows the mind to wander as it pleases without suppression of thought), actually causes parts of the brain associated with feeling and emotion processing to light up more frequently.
“No one knows how the brain works when you meditate. That is why I’d like to study it,” says Jian Xu, who is a physician at St. Olavs Hospital in Trondheim, Norway and a researcher at the Department of Circulation and Medical Imaging at NTNU.
Nondirective meditation resulted in higher levels of self-awareness.
“I was surprised that the activity of the brain was greatest when the person’s thoughts wandered freely on their own, rather than when the brain worked to be more strongly focused,” said Xu. “When the subjects stopped doing a specific task and were not really doing anything special, there was an increase in activity in the area of the brain where we process thoughts and feelings. It is described as a kind of resting network. And it was this area that was most active during nondirective meditation.”
“The study indicates that nondirective meditation allows for more room to process memories and emotions than during concentrated meditation,” says Svend Davanger, a neuroscientist at the University of Oslo, and co-author of the study.
“This area of the brain has its highest activity when we rest. It represents a kind of basic operating system, a resting network that takes over when external tasks do not require our attention. It is remarkable that a mental task like nondirective meditation results in even higher activity in this network than regular rest,” says Davanger.
This should be great news for those who don’t think they know how to meditate, or have difficulty concentrating on their breath or an object of meditation. By simply allowing the mind to do what it naturally does – think – and observing that process without trying to change it, one can gain greater insights into their own truest nature.
Better than Morphine: Meditation Found to Reduce Chronic Pain by 57%
Brain scans which measure long-term brain processes (arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging [ASL MRI]) were taken of participants who were taught how to practice a meditation technique that lasts for only 20 minutes. The 20 minute meditation period results in a whopping 57% reduction in pain. In fact, it isn’t just the thoughts that are changed, but the brain structure itself was utterly transformed by meditation.
Two types of mediation are in fact, completely rewiring the medical paradigm – mindfulness and transcendental meditation. They each require the practitioner to focus their attention on the present moment – either the breath, an image, a word, a sound, or a mantra. Eventually, the mind is taught to be in a state of ‘relaxed awareness’ instead of jumping from thought to thought, a state called ‘the observer’ by practiced meditators. This state of mind also helps us to be more compassionate and non-judgmental, which lowers our stress – one of the biggest indicators of long-term illness and disease.
As reported by Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., lead author of the study and post-doctoral research fellow at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, in the Journal of Neuroscience:
“This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation. . . We found a big effect – about a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent.”
“We found a big effect – about a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent.”
Meditation also significantly reduced brain activity in the primary somatosensory cortex, an area that is significantly involved in creating the feeling of where and how intense a painful stimulus is.
Its time to put away the pills and try to calm your mind. It could reduce your pain while also preventing the unpleasant side effects that come with pharmaceutical drugs. Meditation instead of morphine. Try it.
New Study: Meditation Alters Genes Rapidly, Triggers Molecular Changes
The researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Institute of Biomedical Research in Barcelona, Spain found subjects who partook of 8-hour intensive mindfulness meditation showed significant molecular changes.
A group of experienced meditation practitioners spent an 8-hour day in mindfulness while a control group spent the day in quiet but non-meditative activities. The meditation group experienced genetic changes including reduced levels of inflammatory genes like RIPK2 and COX2, indicating faster recovery from stressful situations.
As Medical News Today reports:
“The extent to which some of the genes were down-regulated was associated with faster cortisol recovery to a social stress test, where participants were challenged to make an impromptu speech or complete mental calculations in front of an audience.”
In other words, the meditation helped participants keep cool under pressure.
“The regulation of HDACs and inflammatory pathways may represent some of the mechanisms underlying the therapeutic potential of mindfulness-based interventions. Our findings set the foundation for future studies to further assess meditation strategies for the treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions,” explained Perla Kaliman, co-author of the study.
Far from the first study on meditation, this is the first to demonstrate molecular changes caused by the age-old practice.
“Our genes are quite dynamic in their expression and these results suggest that the calmness of our mind can actually have a potential influence on their expression,” said Dr. Richard J. Davidson of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds.
Meditation has been used for centuries and longer to assist humankind with their spiritual and health endeavors. In other words, this study is catching up with what many people have known for a long time—that the mind can influence the body.
Other studies have linked meditation practice with stress reduction, IBS and digestive relief, the easing of cold symptoms, and helping to regulate blood pressure. Meditation was even shown to beat morphine in reducing pain in one small study. These studies didn’t explain how the meditation was working, but this most recent one seems to tap a new expanse of potential.
When it comes to the world of science, evidence is king. Anecdotes and surveys that reveal meditation to have physical benefits are not as convincing as genetic proof. Practitioners of meditation may not need that sort of laboratory evidence, but for scientists it provides a foundation of legitimacy for a practice they may have previously doubted.
From Natural Society @ http://naturalsociety.com/meditation-can-grow-brain-just-8-weeks/ ,http://naturalsociety.com/brain-gets-smarter-meditation/ , http://naturalsociety.com/meditation-medication/ and http://naturalsociety.com/meditation-alters-genes-says-new-study/
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