Meditation Improves Brain Function
There is mounting evidence from researchers at leading research institutions about the benefits of meditation for brain health and function. One of the latest series of studies, from researchers at Harvard, was explained at length in the Washington Post. The short story – meditation improves brain function and grows the brain in important ways.
Richard Taite is founder and CEO of Cliffside Malibu, offering evidence-based, individualized addiction treatment based on the Stages of Change model. He is also co-author of the book Ending Addiction for Good.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
Sara Lazar is a neuroscientist with Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. After using yoga personally to some benefit, she began conducting research on the ways in which the brain responds to meditation. The results she found were astounding. She explained these findings to the Washington Post.
We found differences in brain volume after eight weeks [of meditation] in five different regions in the brains of the two groups. In the group that learned meditation, we found thickening in four regions:
- The primary difference, we found in theposterior cingulate, which is involved in mind wandering, and self-relevance.
- The left hippocampus, which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation.
- The temporo parietal junction, or TPJ, which is associated with perspective taking, empathy and compassion.
- An area of the brain stem called thePons, where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced.
The amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety, fear and stress in general. That area got smaller in the group that went through the mindfulness-based stress reduction program.
The change in the amygdala was also correlated to a reduction in stress levels.
These findings are important for addiction treatment. They mean that a primary focus of addiction treatment, along with treating the underlying causes of the addiction (generally trauma or pain), must be on building a healthy brain. For example, one of the areas in which meditation helps with is the hippocampus of the brain, the area that controls emotional regulation. Along with psychotherapy, meditation helps addicts control their emotions, so that they don’t have to use over them. When other areas of the brain are developed, self-esteem can flourish, along with becoming more thoughtful of others. In addicts, these are all areas of deficit, but if we can develop them – and the research shows that we can, in part through meditation – we can build healthy neurocircuitry and individuals better able to cope with their surroundings and life circumstances.
If you are not yet practicing meditation regularly, look into it by finding a good instructor. You deserve the positive outcomes.