Meditation and Brain Structure

Effect of Meditation on the Brain

Wessam Bou-Assaly, MD

  

The effect of the meditation on the brain has been a subject of many researches recently. Meditation appears to have an amazing neurological benefits, suspected from ancient times, just now being confirmed by MRI, functional MRI and EEG.

Most recently, a study conducted by a Harvard affiliated team out of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), concluded that meditation has tangible effects, confirmed by MRI, on the human brain structure. An 8 week program of mindfulness meditation studied by MRI scans, showed  for the first time clear evidence that meditation produces “massive changes” in brain Gray Matter.

MRI scans documented for the first time how meditation produces massive changes inside the brain’s gray matter. The structural differences between the brains of experienced meditation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation, showed thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration.

Meditation also appears to help preserve the aging brain. A study from UCLA found that long-term meditators had better-preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged. Participants who’d been meditating for an average of 20 years had more grey matter volume throughout the brain.

A Yale University interesting studies in the last few years, found that mindfulness meditation also decreases activity in the default mode network (DMN), the brain network responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts – a.k.a., “monkey mind.” The DMN is active when we’re not thinking about anything in particular, wandering from thought to thought. Since mind-wandering is typically associated with being less happy, ruminating, and worrying about the past and future, it’s the goal for many people to dial it down. Several studies have shown that meditation, though its quieting effect on the DMN, appears to do just this.

A Johns Hopkins study looked at the relationship between Mindfulness Meditation and its effect on depression, anxiety, and pain. Researcher Madhav Goyal and his team found that the effect size of meditation was moderate, at 0.3 but equal to the effect size for antidepressants which is also 0.3, which makes the effect of Meditation sound pretty good, making the Meditation an active form of brain training.

Meditation has central effects on improving attention and concentration, reduces anxiety, especially social anxiety, can be very effective in helping people recover from various types of addiction, including quitting smoking and can help kids in school performance.

Wessam Bou-Assaly, MD is a Radiologist in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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