The Neuroscience of Meditation
Categories: Benefits of Meditation
Research on the effects of meditation is still in its earliest stages, but so far the results have been astounding. fMRI machines, the latest and greatest technology in the world of brain scanning, lets scientists view the brain as it’s working in real time. What this means is that if a researcher wants to see if meditation has a certain effect on the brain, they can literally just see if it does or it doesn’t.
Here’s a recap of some of the most radical discoveries researchers have found using this method…
Researchers at UC Santa Barbra wanted to know if meditation could help their students focus better and improve their grades. Long story short, it did. Students who participated in a meditation-training program experienced a reduction in their “mind wandering” and an increase in their G.R.E. scores.
When researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison scanned the brains of Tibetan monks, they were able to see a clear connection between mental resiliency and meditation. Resilience has to do with discipline, will power, and self-determination; all qualities monks are famous for mastering. In the past, no one was quite sure how monks were able to reach such high levels of determination and will power, but now it seems their secret has been revealed.
Thicker (or Thinner) Gray Matter
For every type of thought or feeling we experience there is a region of the brain associated with each type, and the strength of that region can be measured by the thickness of gray matter in that area. When researchers had participants meditate for just eight weeks, they noticed that the participants literally had thicker gray matter in the regions associated with compassion and self-awareness, but actually had thinner gray matter in the region associated with stress.
Quiets the Mind
As human beings, we all share the same mammalian brain, so it should come as know surprise that our minds also share the same default mode of thinking, called the “default mode network.” Well, most of us do… You see, when you’re not actively engaged in some activity or other mental process, your mind has a default mode that it switches to. This default mode network is actually a part of your brain, and scientists can see it light up like a Roman candle whenever we’re just sitting around, lost in our thoughts, most likely obsessing over our past or our future.
However, when researchers at Yale looked at this part of the brain in meditators, they saw that they were able to deactivate this region of the brain whether they were meditating or not.
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