How Meditation Can Change Your Brain

Meditation has been a buzzword for the last decade or so and it may have a mystic reputation, but there are scientifically proven ways that meditation can not only relieve stress, but actually suggest that it can change the structure of your brain. 


According to the Mayo Clinic, meditation can be effective in managing negative emotions, stress responses, strengthening skills for creativity, staying in the present and even have an impact on illnesses that are worsened by stress.


 Depending on who you ask there are between 3 and 100 different types of meditation. Some of the most common types are guided, transcendental, zen, and yoga. Focused attention is a very common element of most meditations, whether focused on the body, breathing, visualization, or a sound. Other common practices are a calm setting, comfortable position, and breathing exercises. 


Harvard neurologist Sarah Lazar studied how meditation affects the brain by scanning the brains of long-term meditators and a control group. Her study found more gray matter in the parts of the brain that have to do with auditory and sensory processing and in the prefrontal cortex which helps with memory and decision making. Apparently, the prefrontal cortex showed the most startling results, as that is a part of the brain that commonly shrinks with age, and long-term meditators who were over 50 had the prefrontal cortex of a 25 year old!


In a second study, Lazar put non-meditators through an 8 week course of mindfulness and stress reduction. After 8 weeks, they found changes already starting in the brain in areas that control perception, memory, mind wandering, empathy, and more. Importantly, the part of the brain that processes stress, fear, and fight or flight had shrunk!


So, you might be wondering how much meditation you need to do before you too can change your brain. It’s actually a trickier question than you think. According to Lazar more studies need to be done. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start with 10 or 15 minutes a day. The great thing about meditation is that you can do it anywhere, at almost any time. You can take a class here at Rochester Holistic Arts, or you can take time in the morning, at your lunch hour, or before bed to meditate. It might be helpful to start with some classes before you break out on your own, or there are some excellent free apps and youtube videos to use to guide you. 


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