Last month the medical journal "Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging" published a study
showing that meditation induces certain positive physiological brain changes -- specifically, that an increase in the density of gray matter in areas of the brain responsible for memory, learning, compassion, empathy, emotional regulation, and sense of self.
For 30 minutes each day over an 8-week period, the study's participants practiced a type of meditation called "Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction." In addition to gently focusing the mind's attention, the meditators also engaged in some simple stretching and guided relaxation exercises. After only 8 weeks, MRI brain scans of the participants showed positive brain changes when compared to a control group that did not meditate.
The study builds on prior research demonstrating that there are differences between the brains of long-term meditators and non-meditators. But what is really exciting about this new study is that it indicates it's meditation, and not diet or lifestyle, which is effecting these positive and rapid changes in the brain.
I find that my patients who meditate typically sleep better, have less pain, less anxiety and depression, and a better general sense of well-being. But there also has been plenty of research over the last decade demonstrating that meditation helps reduce stress and blood pressure, provides relief from migraine headaches, improves concentration and boosts immune function.
How does one meditate? Usually by sitting quietly. But for some people, active forms of meditation, such as walking, dancing, singing or painting is most effective. Given that meditation is readily accessible, cheap and portable, and has few if any risks, there's really no harm in giving it a try.
When you're in the office, please ask for a free copy of our 8-minute, Autogenic Training CD or click here to listen to an online version of this guided meditation.
I also recommend the book, Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach, a psychologist and meditation teacher who expertly describes the process and healing power of a regular meditation practice. Her book is available for purchase online or in our office.
There also are many fine books about the science of meditation. One of my favorites is: Change Your Mind, Change Your Brain, by Newsweek Reporter Sharon Begley. Perhaps the best way to get started, however, is to take a meditation class. We hope to offer a meditation program this spring, and will keep you posted as these plans progress.
With best wishes for your optimal health,
Gary Kaplan, DO