Scientists have previously studied the differences in brain structure of people who practice meditation and those who don’t meditate. However, there was no evidence that the changes are actually cause by the practice of meditation. A new research study
has now confirmed that meditation does cause brain structure changes.
The study was carried out mainly by researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, including Britta K. Hölzel and Sara W. Lazar along with others. It is titled Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density
and has been published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging (January 30, 2011)
. The research analyzed brain structure scans of 16 subjects, before and after entering a meditation practice program, and compared them with a control group not practicing meditation. Results showed that the meditating group had increased density of gray matter in their brain’s hippocampus and other structures related to such functions as memory, self-awareness, empathy, and learning.
The study’s results show that meditation improves all these functions since the increased density of gray matter in the associated structures of brain signify greater neural underpinning for these functions. At the same time, the research also found that meditation decreased the gray matter density in the amygdala, the almond-shaped structure of the brain associated with anxiety and stress. Accordingly, meditation decreases anxiety and stress, as reported by the subjects participating in the study.
The study is said to have opened a new door for further research on coping with stress-induced psychological problems like PTSD. Britta K. Hölzel says that they have started studying the mechanisms that are involved in bringing about the change in brain structures by meditation.