In a study of long-term practitioners, neuroscientists found that experienced meditators had more gray matter in the frontal cortex.
The frontal cortex is linked to decision making and to working memory. Most cortices shrink as they age, but 50-year-old meditators in the study had a similar amount of gray matter as 25 year olds.
In a second study, the team led by Sara Lazar of Mass General and Harvard Medical School observed people with no experience in an eight-week program of mindfulness. Participants meditated for an average of 27 minutes per day. Previous studies suggest that significant results can be achieved by meditating for 15 to 20 minutes per day.
The researchers observed thickening in various regions of the brain, including the left hippocampus (involved in learning, memory, and emotional regulation); the temporoparietal junction (involved in empathy and the ability to have multiple perspectives); and a part of the brain stem called the bridge (where regulatory neurotransmitters are generated).
There was also the shrinkage of the amygdala, a region of the brain associated with fear, anxiety, and aggression. This reduction in amygdala size correlated with reduced levels of stress in these participants.
The reduction in stress can contribute not only to a better quality of life but also can prevent chronic diseases and decrease feelings of pain due to the reduction of inflammation. In addition to reducing health costs, they can reduce the doses of addictive opioids and other medication. Improved decision-making and creative ability as well as empathy with clients and coworkers are desirable in the new economy. Finally, meditative experiences can transform perspectives to solve personal challenges and even reveal new paradigms for improved coexistence at work, at home, in the community, and on the Planet.
Photo and videos: Harvard University