HJ: Meditation has long been known to be beneficial on a number of levels and science is now confirming this to be true, but perhaps what is even more interesting is the fact that science is also discovering things that were not previously perceptible such as the fact that meditation actually changes the structure of your brain.  This is a fascinating and incredible discovery with many implications into the relationship between the body and mind.  As mentioned in a recent post on the expression of genetics, it is now being shown that lifestyle habits (such as meditation) seem to have a far greater influence on our quality of life and potential than previously acknowledged.

- Truth

A Little Meditation Goes a Long Way

By Jason Marsh | Greater Good

I consider myself something of a prospective meditator—meaning that a serious meditation practice is always something I’m about to start… next week.

So for years, I’ve been making a mental note of new studies showing that meditation can literally change our brain structure in ways that might boost concentration, memory, and positive emotions.

The results seem enticing enough to make anyone drop into the full lotus position—until you read the fine print: Much of this research involves people who have meditated for thousands of hours over many years; some of it zeroes in on Olympic-level meditators who have clocked 10,000 hours or more. Pretty daunting.

Well, a new study offers some hope—and makes the benefits of meditation seem within reach even for a novice like me.

The study, published last month in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, suggests that meditating for just 30 minutes a day for eight weeks can increase the density of gray matter in brain regions associated with memory, stress, and empathy.

The researchers tracked 16 people who were participating in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction(MBSR) program, the training program developed more than 30 years ago by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Over eight weekly meetings, the program leads participants through meditation exercises meant to build the skills of mindfulness—a moment-by-moment awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Participants are supposed to try these practices on their own between classes.


For decades, people who’ve completed the MBSR training have reported feeling less stress and more positive emotions; participants suffering from chronic illnesses say they experience less pain afterward.

But in this study, the researchers weren’t just asking the participants how they felt. They were examining their brains, two weeks before and right after the eight-week program. Over the same period, they also scanned the brains of people who didn’t receive the MBSR training.

The MBSR participants, none of whom were experienced meditators, reported spending just under half an hour per day on their meditation “homework.” Yet when their brains were scanned at the end of the program, their gray matter was significantly thicker in several regions than it was before.

Brain scans of the hippocampus, showing the regions the researchers determined were affected by meditation.
One of those regions was the hippocampus, which prior research has found to be involved in learning, memory, and the regulation of our emotions. The gray matter of the hippocampus is often reduced in people who suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The researchers also found denser gray matter in the temporo-perietal junction and the posterior cingulated cortex of the meditators’ brains—regions involved in empathy and taking the perspective of someone else—and in the cerebellum, which has been linked to emotion regulation.

These brain changes may suggest that meditation improves people’s ability to regulate their emotions, control their stress levels, and feel empathy for others, says Britta Hölzel, the study’s lead author and a research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Geissen in Germany. However, she stresses that these conclusions are still very speculative.

The group that didn’t receive the MBSR training didn’t show any of these positive changes in brain structure.

Previous research has shown that the structure of very experienced meditators’ brains is different from non-meditators in certain regions, but it couldn’t prove that the meditators didn’t have exceptional brains to begin with. This is the first study to document a difference in brain structure from before someone starts a meditation practice to after they’ve gotten underway—and after only eight weeks, at that.

While other research, notably a 2003 study led by Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, has shown that people’s brain activity changes after the eight-week MBSR course, there hadn’t been evidence that the effects of meditation can go so deep as to change the structure of the brain.

The results of this new study offer further evidence for the “plasticity” of the brain, meaning it can change its shape over time. That suggests we’re not simply stuck with the neural cards we’re dealt; we can fundamentally improve our cognitive and emotional capacities.

“I think what’s really positive and promising about this study is that it suggests our well-being is in our hands,” says Hölzel. “What I find fascinating is that just paying attention in a different way and being more aware can have such an impact that it even changes the structure of our brain.”

It’s important to note that meditation isn’t the only research-tested way to produce these changes in the brain. A study published last week, in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the hippocampus of people in their 60s increased in volume after they’d walked around a track three times per week for a year; in peers who did less aerobic exercises, the hippocampus actually got smaller.

The upshot of all this research seems to be: Small steps matter. Many of us can bring about positive effects on our brains and overall well-being—without an Olympic effort.

It’s enough to turn a prospective meditator like me into an actual one.

Jason Marsh is the editor in chief of Greater Good.


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  1. Until we reached age of 4 during the normal state of eyes open, awake and alert our brains were functioning in the delta state, with brain waves function at less than 4 Hz. But still when we have deep sleep our brains function in the delta state..

    From age of 4 to 7, during the normal state of eyes open, awake and alert our brains were primarily operating in theta state, with brain waves functioning mainly between between 4 to 7 Hz. Now we experience this level of brain wave activity during sleep and during states of fear when the body goes into a fight,-flight or freeze response, (hyper arousal, or the acute stress response). This is a powerful level from which to initiate change and in this state, we only need mostly just one or couple of experiences of learning to change our behaviour.

    From the age 7 until we reached our puberty, during the normal state of eyes open, awake and alert our brains were mainly operating in the alpha state of 7 to 14 Hz. Now during light sleep, meditation, or eyes closed relaxation we reach alpha state. At this level effective learning can take place after about 21 repetitions. Practice a new behaviour for about 21 times and that behaviour becomes a habit. Strong levels of physical healing can take place when the brain is at 10 Hz

    Since puberty during the normal state of eyes open, awake and alert our brain operates in the beta state, 14 to 21 Hz during the normal state of eyes open, awake and alert. In this state it may take many thousands of repetitions to learn a new behaviour. To create significant change in our lives at this level takes extensive deal of time and effort.

    Brain waves less than 7 Hz are very ideal for rejuvenating and to maintain good health.

    0.5 Hz – Relaxation, Soothe headaches
    0.5 – 1.5 Hz – Pain relief. Endorphin release
    0.9 Hz – Euphoric feeling
    1 Hz – Well being. Harmony and balance
    1 – 3 Hz – Profound relaxation, restorative sleep. Tranquility and peace
    2.5 Hz – Production of endogenous opiates (pain killers, reduce anxiety)
    2.5 Hz – Relieves migraine pain. Produces endogenous opiates
    3 – 8 Hz – Deep relaxation, meditation. Lucid dreaming
    3 – 8 Hz – Increased memory, focus, creativity
    3.4 Hz – Helps achieve restful sleep
    3.5 Hz – Feeling of unity with everything. Whole being regeneration
    3.9 Hz – Self renewal, enhanced inner awareness
    4 Hz – Enkephalin release for reduced stress
    4 Hz – Allows brain to produce enkaphalins, all natural pain killer
    4 Hz – Full memory scanning. Releases enkephalins
    4.Hz – Vital for memory and learning. Problem solving, object naming
    4 – 7 Hz – Profound inner peace, emotional healing. Lowers mental fatigue
    4 – 7 Hz – Deep meditation, near-sleep brainwaves.
    4.5 Hz – Brings about Buddha’s state of consciousness, Buddhist chants.
    4.9 Hz – Induce relaxation and deeper sleep
    4.9 Hz – Introspection. Relaxation, meditation
    5 Hz – Reduces sleep required. Replaces need for extensive dreaming
    5.3 Hz – Allows relaxing breathing, free and efficient
    5.5 Hz – Inner guidance, intuition
    6.5 Hz – Activates creative frontal lobe
    7.5 Hz – Activates creative thought for art, invention, music. Problem solving
    7.5 Hz – Ease of overcoming troublesome issues
    7.8 Hz – Schumann earth resonance. Grounding, meditative, Leaves us revitalized
    8 Hz – Associated with the mouth. Brings creativity
    8- 10 Hz Super-learning new information, memorization, not comprehension.
    10 Hz – Enhanced serotonin release. Mood elevation, arousal, stimulant
    10 Hz – Provides relief from lost sleep, improves general mood
    10 Hz – Mood elevator. Used to dramatically reduce headaches
    10 Hz – Clarity, subconscious correlation. Releases serotonin
    11 Hz – Relaxed yet awake state
    11 – 14 Hz – Increased focus and awareness
    12 Hz – Centering, mental stability.
    12 – 15 Hz – Relaxed focus, improved attentive abilities
    12 – 14 Hz – Learning frequency, good for absorbing information passively
    13 – 27 Hz – Promotes focused attention toward external stimuli
    13 – 30 Hz – Problem solving, conscious thinking
    14 Hz – Awakeness, alert. Concentration on tasks, Focusing, vitality.
    16 Hz – Bottom of hearing range. Releases oxygen/calcium into cells
    18 – 24 Hz — Euphoria, can result in headaches, anxiety.

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