Research validates meditation’s beneficial impact on brain
Posted on February 9th, 2011

By Philip Fernando, Former Deputy Editor Sunday Observer, Sri Lanka

The latest scientific research had found a cause and effect link between meditation and its enhanced benefit to the structure of the brain. Medication definitely augmented brain’s thinking ability and processing of emotions.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Researchers at Harvard, Yale and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) compared brain scans of 20 experienced meditators accustomed to Insight meditation or ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Vipassana BhavanaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ with those of 15 non-meditators.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The evidence was clear. Brain structure improved in people who mediated regularly and they grew bigger brains than those who did not. The brain scans of seasoned meditators showed increased thickness in parts of the brain that carried out attention and sensory input processing. The non-meditators did not show any change.

In one area of gray matter, the thickening turns out to be more beneficially pronounced in older than in younger people. Researchers said that it is intriguing because those sections of the human cortex, or thinking cap, normally get thinner as we age.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Well-being heightened

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Research indicated that meditation practice could promote cortical plasticity in adults in areas important for cognitive and emotional processing and well-being.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ These findings are consistent with other studies that demonstrated changes in areas of the brain relative to repeated ventures into disciplined activity like competitive sports. In other words, the structure of an adult brain can definitely change in response to reiterated meditation.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Scientists studied the two groups. During scanning, the meditators meditated; the others just relaxed and thought about whatever they wanted.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Four of the clinical participants taught meditation or yoga, but they were not monks living in seclusion. The rest worked in careers such as law, health care, and journalism. All the participants were white.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Distinct path of Vipassana Bhavana

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Meditators following insight meditation-ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Vipassana bhavana” professed a distinct path into mindfulness in which attention is focused upon registering feelings, thoughts, and sensations exactly as they occur, without elaboration, preference, selection, comments, censorship, judgment, or interpretation.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ It did not involve “om,” and other mantras, or chanting. Meditator paid attention to sensory experience, rather than to their thoughts about the sensory experience. Intense concentration engulfed them.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Experienced meditators were attuned to focus steadfastly and not drift aimlessly. The research participants meditated an average of about 40 minutes a day. Some had been doing it for longer periods a day for years.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Depth of the meditation was measured by the slowing of breathing rates. Those deeply into a meditative state showed the greatest changes in brain structural change.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Research proved that post-meditation differences in brain structure were caused solely by the meditation, and not the reverse corollary that differences in brain thickness made them take to meditation.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The increased thickness of gray matter in brains of the meditator though minute—4 to 8 thousandths of an inch- is proportional to the time a person has been meditating during their lives. Extensive practice would bring about the desired change in the brain.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Slowing the aging process

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The researchers also felt that the higher incidence of gray matter in the brain were leading to more studies on the physiology of the brain changes and how meditation might be used to improve health and even slow the aging process.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Reasons for the causes of increased thickness of gray matter, connections between brain cells and blood vessels-if any and the type of behavioural changes in meditators are being looked into.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Whether increased communication between intellectual and emotional areas of the brain would occur and to what extent also need to be probed.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ To get answers, larger studies are planned at Massachusetts General Hospital, the Harvard-affiliated facility where the original studies were done. That work included only 20 meditators and their brains were scanned only once. More people may be sought in the next round.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ MeditationƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s authenticity as a panacea to reduce stress or bring about an enhanced clarity of thought in people seemed to reach a wider audience. Its ability to get people stay focused in difficult situations and prepare minds for getting solace from the clutter of daily minutiae has reached millions in the world.

One Response to “Research validates meditation’s beneficial impact on brain”

  1. Fran Diaz Says:

    Many thanks to Mr Philip Fernando for this information on research into Vipassana Bhavana. The different types of Bhavana brings many different benefits to the practioner, including understanding of Life itself, understanding of oneself & others, and a lighthearted Happiness, at least some or most of the time.

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