You sit down to meditate. You close your eyes and try to practice your technique. You have heard of the many benefits attributed to meditation and maybe have experienced some. After you finish the meditation, you feel different—maybe more relaxed, peaceful, aware, insightful, etc. But what exactly happens during the meditation to produce these results?
Today, neuroscientific research has been examining the effects of meditation on the actual structure of the brain. For over a hundred years, scientists have observed the amazing capacity of the brain to alter itself when dealing with injuries or other traumas. More recent studies have used sophisticated equipment to measure changes in brain structure over time. The ability of the brain to adapt and respond to external and internal stimuli is called neuroplasticity.
So the interesting question is – does meditation change the brain? Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School have tracked how meditation is actually altering the structure of our brains. In one of their most well-known studies (2000), they observed how just 8 weeks of meditation, for 40 minutes a day, was enough to alter parts of the brain that regulate:
- Emotional regulation
- Empathy and compassion
- Response to stress
- Mental focus
According to these studies, meditation is actually restructuring our brain which could help us learn better, control our emotions, develop greater empathy, regulate stress, and concentrate our minds. In one sense, meditation is developing a “better brain” that is more balanced, more effective, and more empathetic. If these changes are already observed over a 2 month period, imagine the benefits you could experience with a regular daily practice.
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