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Effects on the brain in meditation – part 3 from 5

Nowadays the effect of meditation has become a growing subfield of neurological research. In 1975, Dr. Herbert Benson, founder of the Harvard’s Mind-Body Medical Institute, reported that meditation induces a host of biochemical and physical changes in the body collectively referred as the “relaxation response”. Dr Benson, demonstrated that the relaxation response includes changes in metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and brain chemistry. Benson and his team have also done clinical studies at Buddhist monasteries in the Himalayan Mountains. Benson wrote The Relaxation Response[1] to document the benefits of meditation. Studies in the 1990s turned research on adult neurogenesis, the regeneration of brain cells, into a mainstream pursuit.

Modern scientific techniques and instruments, such as MRI and EEG, are now used to see what happens in the bodies of people when they meditate, as well as its long term effects. These studies have shown substantial bodily changes as a consequence of regular meditative practice. They include growth in regions of the brain activated involved with compassion and understanding others, being mindfully aware, sustaining focus on a single object for a long period, and others.

In 2011; Sara Lazar and her team at Harvard University found that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain. Eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was found to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory, and in certain areas of the brain that play roles in emotion regulation and self-referential processing. There were also decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress. The results suggest that participation in Mindfullness- Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking. These changes matched the participants self-reports of their stress levels, indicating that meditation not only changes the brain, but it changes our subjective perception and feelings as well.

So. What exactly happens in the brain while meditating?

We found out meditation is able to change the brain, our subjective perception and feelings. Now. For a long time scientists thought the brain had a certain number of cells. What is quite new and beautiful information the last few years, is that everybody makes 10.000 new brain cells a day! Tomorrow I’ll explain how these cells can have a positive effect on your emotional state and help us to become more happy 🙂

[1] Benson H, Klipper MZ. The Relaxation Response. New York: Wings Books, 1974.

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