Time and time again, research has touted the benefits of practicing meditation. In fact, a prestigious study emerged from Harvard University in recent years, with results that shocked scientists. Meditation can actually restore the brain’s gray matter in a matter of eight weeks.
Read on for more information on the Harvard study and what it found regarding meditation and gray matter. You may be surprised by just how much meditation and mindfulness alter brain structures in a positive way.
Overview of gray matter in the brain
At its basic definition, gray matter is a key part of the body’s central nervous system. Gray matter refers to neuronal cell bodies and exists in the brain, brain stem, spinal cord and more.
This is important to the overall function and reliability of the brain, and reductions in gray matter can cause negative effects, particularly in cases of addictions.
The study went on for eight weeks
In 2014, test subjects participated in an eight-week study that included consistent mindful meditation. A Harvard-associated team of researchers set up at Massachusetts General Hospital to examine the physical effects of meditation. MRI scans were implemented to track, for the first time, the way meditation caused physical modifications inside the brain’s gray matter.
Meditation resulted in changes to brain structure
Sara Lazar, a senior study author, reported that the peacefulness associated with meditation led to the idea that it may have physical benefits. Lazar, who works with the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and is a Harvard Medical School psychology instructor, said the study demonstrated change in brain structure.
Participants spent less than 30 minutes a day meditating
Over the course of the study, subjects spent 27 minutes per day, on average, practicing meditation exercises. The simple activity of mindfulness caused a stimulation and significant increase in gray matter density. The density increased specifically in the hippocampus, which is associated with compassion, self-awareness, and reflection.
Meditation and mindfulness resulted in much less stress
Sue McGreevey, also with Massachusetts General Hospital, reported that subjects experienced less stress. It was also noted that, in comparison to those with no history of meditation, participants had differing brain structure. The study also found a thickening of the cerebral cortex areas associated with attention and emotional areas, resulting from meditation.
The study concluded that meditation improves the brain and a person’s well-being
Britta Hölzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University, emphasized the importance of the study findings. “It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life,” she said. If you’re interested in learning more on the study, visit Harvard.edu.
Research is ongoing to this day
Despite these groundbreaking findings, neuroscientists continue to monitor and study the effects of meditation on the brain. The human brain is extraordinarily complex, and mindfulness is a practice that many turn to to restore a sense of calmness. But, more and more, science is acknowledging how mindful meditation actually does change the brain and not only the mind.
Meditation is also important in addiction recovery
Meditation can also be a key component of addiction healing and recovery. If you’re considering a recovery program to help with your addiction, you’re already on the right path. Acknowledging and accepting that you may be suffering from addiction is the first step in recovering. Once you’re ready to take the next step, contact us at Serenity Springs Recovery Center.