Neuroscientist Sara Lazar's amazing brain scans show meditation can actually change the size of key regions of our brain, improving our memory and making us more empathetic, compassionate, and resilient under stress – read the article fully and then view the video.
Led by Dr. Lazar, a neurologist and instructor, a team of researchers at the Harvard Medical School, have discovered that just 8 weeks of meditation can fuel grey-matter in the hippocampus and promote brain ‘growth’. To be more specific, the regions in the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress showed measurable changes sparked by meditation.
Those who did not go take part in Dr. Lazar’s course experienced no such structural brain changes.
16 volunteers took part in Dr. Lazar’s mindfullness course with respect to the study, and MRI scans were taken 2 weeks prior to and after the study. Incredibly, it was evident that after just 8 short weeks of practicing mindfulness meditation, Dr. Lazar’s volunteers showed thicker grey matter in several important areas of the brain, including the left hippocampus, a small horseshoe-shaped structure in the central brain involved in memory, learning and emotional regulation.
Additional parts of the brain positively affected by just eight weeks of meditation were posterior the cingulate cortex – also important for memory and emotions; the temporoparietal junction, involved in empathy creation; and the cerebellum, which helps to coordinate movement.
She said: “Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day. This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”
Britta Hölzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany, said: “It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life. Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.”
The meditation course seemed to cause the brain to form denser connections among important centers that regulate our behavior and help us to be ‘smart.’
This translates to all sorts of possible benefits – from handling stress better at work and in our lives, to conducting out responsibilities with more élan. Sure, you can cram for those finals, or beat your head against the wall trying to meet a deadline at work, but maybe some life-long meditative practices can help.
Her talk and pictures are highly motivating for those looking for an edge in their industry or who just need some extra oomph to get through their hectic lives.
You can see Dr. Lazar talk about her brain scans in a Ted Talks video here.