How Meditation Changes Your Brain


There is growing evidence to show that meditation can make people healthier and happier. It may even increase lifespan, alter brain structure and change personality.


Now, mainstream medicine is beginning to take notice of meditation’s effects.For example, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which is about 80 percent meditation, has been approved in Britain for use with people who have experienced three or more episodes of depression.


MRI scans of long-term meditators have shown greater activity in brain circuits involved in paying attention. Long-term meditation can also cause changes inthe actual structure of your cortex, the outer layer of your brain. Brain regions associated with attention and sensory processing have been shown to be thicker in meditators.


Studies suggest that meditation can help you to train your attention and focus, even in the midst of distractions. For instance, when disturbing noises were played to a group of experienced meditators undergoing an MRI, they had little effect on the brain areas involved in emotion and decision-making.


About 10 million people meditate every day in the West, and many more in other parts of the world.


Dr. Mercola's Comments:  Before you brush off meditation as something only for Buddhist monks or hippies, it would serve you well to find out whatyou may be missing.


Meditation is the equivalent of giving your mind an escape valve to blow off steam.


This is such a necessary tool in today’s 24/7 society that many people naturally engage in some form of meditation whenever they feel stressed --listening to music, journaling, prayer, soaking in a bath, all of these work similarly to meditation in that they focus your mind and help promote a state of calm. 


In so doing, your pulse, breathing and heart rate are likely to slow down, and your muscles will begin to relax. Your mind, too, will begin to unwind andforget about its racing thoughts.


At its most basic level, meditation helps you take a deliberate break from the stream of thoughts that are constantly flowing in and out of your mind. Some people use it to promote spiritual growth or find inner peace, while others useit as a relaxation and stress-reduction tool. 


And while it’s not unusual for the most experienced meditators to have spent decades, even a lifetime, perfecting this art, you can gain benefits just from meditating in your home for 20 minutes a day.  


What Can 20 Minutes a Day do for You?

Meditation has been shown to alter the workings of your brain not only in the short-term, but quite possibly permanently. Meditating thickens the areas of your brain where memory and attention reside, according to a Harvard study, and although the aging process lightens the brain in certain sectors, 20 minutes of meditation a day slows that down a bit. 


Meditation can also improve your attention span, even while you’re performing mundane tasks in the mid-afternoon, a time when people typically have problems concentrating.  Interestingly enough, according to one study the benefits of meditation remained strong even after patients lost a night's sleep in follow-up research.

  • High blood pressure
  • Chronic pain, including headaches
  • Respiratory problems such as emphysema and asthma
  • Sleep disturbances and fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal distress and irritable bowel syndrome
  • Skin disorders
  • Mild depression and premenstrual syndrome

Clearly, meditation ranks right up there with exercising and eating right when it comes to improving your health. And it’s something that just about everyone can carve out the time to do.  


Source: The London Times March 14, 2008

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