A team led by Harvard-affiliated researchers has found that in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program (30 minutes per day) novice meditators make measurable, structural changes in their brains. Brain scans document that over time, meditation produces changes in gray matter, specifically a thickening in the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention, learning, memory processes, emotional regulation, self-awareness, and perspective taking.
“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” according to Sara Lazar, Harvard Medical School instructor and lead researcher. “This study demonstrates that actual changes in brain structure may underlie reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”
It is empowering to understand that given the brain’s natural plasticity, should we select to repeat constructive behaviors, like meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain to increase our well-being and quality of life.