Meditation and the Brain – Research Report

Several studies demonstrate the profound benefit of meditation on emotions, the brain, and mental health. The use of sophisticated technologies has made it possible to prove empirically what many therapists have believed for years. Results also align with what Buddhists, Hindus, and other religious and spiritual schools have taught for millennia. Regular meditation in particular has a measurable effect on a several brain structures related to attention, and can actually change the physical structure of the brain.

In September, a team of Emory University researchers reported that people using Zen Buddhist techniques were much better than control subjects at refocusing their attention on their breath. The study, “‘Thinking about Not-Thinking:’ Neural Correlates of Conceptual Processing During Zen Meditation,” was published in the Internet journal PLoS ONE. Its conclusion that “meditative training may foster the ability to control the automatic cascade of semantic associations triggered by a stimulus and, by extension, to voluntarily regulate the flow of spontaneous mentation,” added force to similar findings at Emory last year.

The same researchers reported in 2007 that frequent meditation over many years actually preserves neurons, often known to laypersons as grey matter. It is normal to lose neurons as we age, and this affects concentration. But Zen practitioners in the Emory study had no detectable loss of grey matter. “There are a lot of potential applications for this,” said Milos Cekic, one of the researchers. First and foremost, any condition associated with repetitive negative thoughts – such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress, may be improved through a meditation practice.

© Copyright 2008 by Daniel Brezenoff, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, therapist in Long Beach, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Glory Dog

    Glory Dog

    November 28th, 2008 at 5:18 AM

    Very exciting to see more research coming out on the effects of meditation. Also interesting is the phenomena of “EEG coherence” found in subjects practicing Transcendental Meditation. A dozen studies on TM have noted this, finding strong coherence (and heightened alpha power) throughout all areas of the brain during the meditative state and a resulting growth of more orderly and efficient brain function outside of meditation. The research has also found correlates between increased EEG coherence and growth of IQ, creativity, learning ability, and better memory, and decreased anxiety—all resulting from regular meditation practice. To look at the research, you can go to DoctorsOnTM.org.

    Thanks for the article.

  • Oliver

    Oliver

    November 28th, 2008 at 1:12 PM

    I would love to be able to meditate but find that I never can locate the time or the energy to do it most effectively. Sometimes when I am able to take a little time out of my hectic achedule i will attempt to take a few minutes for myself and go to another place mentally but I feel I never really can get away from it all. I hope to do a little more research on the subject though and commit to it more than I have done in the past especially since there are now so many conclusions about how good it can be for you.

  • naomi

    naomi

    November 28th, 2008 at 7:00 PM

    I have been trying light meditation techniques over the last 2 weeks and I find myself energised and focussed all day long. I was advised to do so because of depressive spells over the last 2 years. It definitely has helped to a large extent.

  • Michael

    Michael

    November 29th, 2008 at 10:08 AM

    I am like the author in the Eat, Pray, Love book. I am usually thinking of something else during meditation time when I am supposed to be thinking about nothing.

  • Kbob108

    Kbob108

    November 29th, 2008 at 11:22 AM

    I have been practicing TM for several years and find it to be very easy to do and get really profound benefit from it. I look forward to my TM sessions and I can do it anywhere; in a car, the airport etc. it doesn’t require a quiet place. Its really quite amazing. Oh, I also wanted to mention that TM does no involve focusing on the breathe or trying to keep the mind free of thoughts. Its a natural technique for diving within. I highly recommend it. You can get more info by calling 888-LearnTM
    Enjoy!

  • Kelly

    Kelly

    November 30th, 2008 at 7:28 AM

    Meditation has helped me through many rough experiences. it did take me a while to get the hang of it but I now wouyld never trade it for anything in the world. There are many times when I feel very stressed that this helps me to relax and focus on all of the good rather than the bad things in my life. I would highly recommend this as a way to experience one’s own personal therapy. It can be quite useful and therapeutic for not only the great stresses of life but also the everyday small things that can sometimes get you down.

  • jeni

    jeni

    November 30th, 2008 at 7:35 AM

    I agree that meditation takes some time and practice. I have tried to meditate, but like many others, I have a hard time focusing on what I am supposed to be doing at the time due to other things keeps crossing my mind while meditating.

  • Patty

    Patty

    November 30th, 2008 at 7:37 AM

    Meditation has many benefits and is very well worth the time and effort put into it. Meditation at first, does take some time getting used to, especially controlling those random thoughts that keep popping up. Be patient and the benefits will happen.

  • daniel brezenoff

    daniel brezenoff

    November 30th, 2008 at 9:50 AM

    To all those who report trying to meditate but being unable to control or dispel random or intrusive thoughts, I want to suggest something: Stop trying to control or dispel thoughts, stop trying to change anything about what you are or are not doing, thinking, or feeling, stop trying to “meditate”…and simply observe and accept anything that occurs, including random thoughts, your desire to control them, your inability to control them, your frustration about this inability, and your belief that this means you are not doing what you are “supposed” to do in meditation. All of that is simply your *self occurring*, and in meditation is all material to observe. That’s what meditation is, essentially – self-observation. Whatever happens is fine. There is no “supposed to,” no goal to achieve, no need to change a thing. Control is an illusion. I suggest, instead: Stop trying; just watch, feel, and breathe. It’s much more fun that way, and the benefits will come more quickly than if we “try”. It worked for me, anyway.

  • BlissCat

    BlissCat

    December 1st, 2008 at 3:35 PM

    I agree with the article that regular meditation is very important. I learned Transcendental Meditation when I was a child, and it’s been great help to me in dealing with whatever comes my way. It is a very simple, effortless technique, yet it yields such wonderful results. No matter what happens, I know that twice a day I will experience the deep silence within me, get that rest which is deeper than any sleep. Then my mind is clearer, stronger, I feel so much happier, and everything is easier to handle. TM does not solve your problems for you, but better than that, it helps you achieve the strength and clarity needed to deal with any situation and be successful.

  • Caroline

    Caroline

    December 2nd, 2008 at 3:52 AM

    Thanks for that Daniel. I have always been too busy thinking about what was supposed to be happening that I would lose focus on just being.

  • Laura

    Laura

    December 3rd, 2008 at 3:59 AM

    So I am wrong in thinking that I am just too busy and stressed overall to give meditation a try? I am not sure I am open to it.

  • tudy

    tudy

    December 12th, 2008 at 5:56 AM

    I find it easy to meditate with meditation CD’s. These are wonderful and I tend to go with the low humming of music in the backgrounds. This is very hypnotic and I enjoy just listening to the sounds. Also, I may be strange, but I love listening to CD’s that have the thunderstorm sounds.

  • Edison Carter

    Edison Carter

    December 17th, 2008 at 2:45 AM

    Thanks, Daniel. When I was in college I tried some of the do-it-yourself approaches to meditation. But found it difficult. What worked for me was TM. Even from the very first session it was totally and completely effortless. The subjective experience was amazing. I’ve been doing it for a while now and it is still a welcome relief to the cares of the work-a-day world. All the Best to You.

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