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Mindfulness Meditation Physically Changes the Brain

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Breathe in, breathe out. Mindfulness meditation can seem like a simple practice. But recent studies suggest it can physically change the brain to help practitioners deal with stress, boost memory, and increase concentration. Looks like Julia Roberts knew what she was doing!

"Gray's" Anatomy - Analysis

Mindfulness meditation differs from other forms by promoting concentration on current, physical sensations instead of letting the mind roam free. Recent studies suggest mindfulness meditation works the brain the way a good workout regimen works the body— minus the buckets of sweat, of course. But rather than building muscle, M.R.I. scans show this form of meditation increases the brain’s gray matter in regions closely associated with memory, learning, and emotional regulation [1]. Studies also suggest mindfulness meditation reduces brain activity in areas responsible for anxiety, stress, and perceptions of pain [2]. If only we’d known about this back in Calculus class…

Mindfulness meditators' brains have also demonstrated an enhanced ability to suppress distractions, allowing the brain to better interpret, categorize, and respond to a variety of stimuli [3]. After focusing on otherwise ignored actions like breathing, meditators’ brains are primed to be extra perceptive in everyday life. Definitely a useful advantage in an over-stimulating, strobe light-friendly world.

 

TL;DR

Studies suggest mindfulness meditation physically changes the brain, allowing for increased concentration and memory.

Works Cited

  1. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Holzel, BK., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., et al. Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA. Psychiatry Research. 2011 Jan 30; 191(1):36-43
  2. Brain mechanisms supporting the modulation of pain by mindfulness meditation. Zeidan, F., Martucci, KT., Kraft, RA. et al. Departments of Neurobiology and Anatomy and Biomedical Engineering, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Psychology Department, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Journal of Neuroscience: The Official Journal of the Society of Neuroscience. 2011 Apr 6; 31(14):5540-8
  3. Effects of mindfulness meditation training on anticipatory alpha modulation in primary somatosensory cortex. Kerr, C.E., Jones, S.R., Wan, Q., et al. Harvard Osher Research Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA. 2011 May 30;85(3-4):96-103