Scientists gradually begin to understand the wholesomeness of meditation: more compassion, better quality of life and reduced levels of stress, depression, anxiety, pain or insomnia. The American neuroscientist Sara Lazar spent the past years doing elaborate research on the effect. The most striking finding was that the brain actually changes after 8 weeks of meditating, as new grey matter arises.
The Washington Post had a fascinating interview with Dr. Lazar.
Dr. Lazar came to the conclusion that meditating can literally change your brain. Long-term meditators have an increased amount of grey matter in the insula and sensory regions, the auditory and sensory cortex compared to a control group.
Empathy and compassion
It’s well-documented that our cortex shrinks as we get older – it’s harder to figure things out and remember things. But in this one region of the prefrontal cortex, 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of gray matter as 25-year-olds.
Dr. Lazar and her team took people who’d never meditated before, and put one group through an 8 week mindfulness- based stress reduction program.
After 8 weeks differences in brain volume were detected in 5 different regions in the brains of the 2 groups. In the group that learned meditation, we found thickening in 4 regions:
- The posterior cingulate, which is involved in mind wandering.
- The left hippocampus, which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation.
- The temporo parietal junction (TPJ), which is associated with perspective taking, empathy and compassion.
- The Pons, where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced.
The amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety, fear and stress got smaller in the group that went through the mindfulness-based stress reduction program.
Mindfulness is just like exercise. It’s a form of mental exercise, really. And just as exercise increases health, helps us handle stress better and promotes longevity, meditation purports to confer some of those same benefits.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years now, so it’s had a very profound influence on my life”, says Dr. Lazar. “It’s very grounding. It’s reduced stress. It helps me think more clearly. It’s great for interpersonal interactions. I have more empathy and compassion for people.”
Interview on The Connection TV with Dr. Lazar.
Source: Nine for New.