Contrary to popular belief, mindful meditation is significantly more popular than many people may currently assume. Statistics that were gathered by the National Institute of Health, demonstrates that roughly 8% of people who live within the US or 18 million people have meditated at some point or another.
When you look at the fact that studies suggest that meditation can provide a wide range of benefits such as, enhanced memory retention rate and stress reduction, it comes as no surprise. Let's take a looked at some promising science supported data that highlights the ways in which meditation changes the brain.
While it may be true that an insurmountable amount of academic research have proven that mindful mediation has a profound effect on our emotional well-being, scientists have not been able to figure out precisely, what actually goes on, whenever people meditate and the effects it has on the brain. However, a Harvard neuroscientist by the name of Sara Lazar, has been categorized as being one of the leading researchers within this field. She is also the first individual to demonstrate that mediation leads to a variety of structural changes within the brain.
In 2005, her team was the first to demonstrate that long term meditation, facilitates cortical thicken within the areas of the brain that are associated with: interoception "awareness of the body's physiological state, sensory processing and attention as well."
In 2011, during a study that her team conducted which consisted of a variety of individuals who had no prior experience with mindful mediation, her team found that, after an 8 week period of practicing meditation, there was an increase in gray matter concentration within the portions of the brain, that were associated with: emotion regulation, perspective talking, self-referential processing and memory and learning processes as well.
What her research suggests is that, the reason why meditation practitioners feel a higher sense of euphoria and tranquility, isn't based on the fact that they are taking the time to relax, during their mediation routine, the reason for their higher state of tranquility is due to the fact that a variety of changes in their brain structure occur, that facilitate the improvements of their lives that many meditation practitioners have always proclaimed.
Lazar proclaims that it's these changes in brain structure, that leads to changes in mental activity. To put things in retrospect, let's take a look at two prime examples of how changes in brain structure can lead to big changes in mental activity.
As mentioned before, in 2011 her team found that mediation lead to increased gray matter concentration in the areas of the brain that's responsible for emotion regulation. Said in simple terms, this change in brain structure will leave the individual more capable of regulating their emotions. Therefore, whenever a negative emotion manifest itself, the individual will be more capable of accepting and allowing that emotion to fade away as opposed to acting upon said emotion via impulsive behavior, self medication or stressful thoughts for example.
As mentioned before, her team demonstrated back in 2005 that, long term mediation facilities cortical thickening in brain areas, that are associated with interception or awareness of the body's physiological state. This in essence means that mediation helps you to become more aware of the subtle emotions you may be experiencing as well as the subtle emotions of others.
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