Regular readers of Mental Gymnastics will know, we love us some intersection of philosophy and science. These are moments when a very “woo woo” principle that’s been discussed as advantageous to humanity for eons, gets science to back it up. There’s even kind of a word for it: metaphysics. Or for those with Phd’s: quantum physics (and yes, I know I’m generalizing…why “kind of a word” bails me out with knit-pickers hehe).
In this instance, we’re of course talking about meditation (surprise!!) and a study out of Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital
(MGH) that shows clear evidence that meditation produces “massive changes” in brain gray matter. I had heard about the growth of brain matter via meditation in various communities, but was still unsure about how that really worked. This study and related article cleared things up for me: those who practiced meditation and mindfulness daily do indeed grow
brain structures associated with sustained boosts in positive and relaxed feelings.
What part of the brain specifically you might ask? Great question – those structural changes most notably occurred in the thickening of the cerebral cortex, aka the area of the brain responsible for attention and emotional integration. For those regular meditators who anecdotally speak of the ability to be “the observer of one’s thoughts” and to be in more control of their emotional responses, the growth of the area of the brain that controls attention and emotional integration makes sense. This was even shown when compared to a control group who didn’t meditate, ruling out the passage of time as simply being the reason for brain growth.
The best part? The cerebral cortex was not the only area of growth in the brain; another sector that received a “significant boost” in gray matter density was the hippocampus. Now what does that control, you may ask? Oh, only self-awareness, compassion, and introspection. In addition to those positive effects, the growth of the hippocampus correlated with decreased gray matter density in the amygdala, the area of the brain known to regulate anxiety and stress responses. And you know what, I’ve heard ‘amygdala’ all my life and it’s nice to FINALLY know what that thing does! Ha!
So wait, you’re telling me that regular meditation and mindfulness practices are scientifically proven to increase attention, emotional integration, self-awareness, compassion, and introspection while seemingly lessening the need for anxiety and stress responses? Mic drop, I know. And read that first sentence again – the study emphasizes that results were based on an average of 27 minutes
of “a daily practice of mindfulness exercises,” meaning one doesn’t need to sit still for 27 minutes to see experience the benefits described previously. Simply practice mindfulness in your daily life, and you’re part of the way there (and for tips and tricks, feel free to browse this site) 🙂
Who knew growing one’s brain could be so educational?!
Blessings on blessings,