Research: Meditation does more than calm your mind, it changes your brain

WASHINGTON — Practicing yoga and meditation can do more than calm your mind — research shows it can change your brain.

Shortly after Dr. Sara Lazar started practicing yoga, she noticed a difference in her every day mental state.

“It’s not just while you’re practicing yoga and meditation, it really carries over throughout the rest of the day,” says Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

“It has such a profound effect on how you see and interact with the world that something had shifted in my mind.”

After talking to others who shared a similar experience, Lazar decided to further investigate her observation. In her research, she found that the brains of meditators are different from non-meditators.

Lazar organized a group of people who had never practiced yoga or meditation and compared their initial MRI scans to MRIs after eight weekly classes of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

When comparing the pre and post scans, she noticed a change in the hippocampus, which is important for learning and memory, as well as a change in the posterior cingulate cortex, which is involved in mind-wandering and is the region that’s destroyed by Alzheimer’s disease.

Additionally, Lazar found that the medulla, which is the “fight or flight” part of the brain, got smaller. This change correlated with a change in stress, Lazar says.

While the participants in Lazar’s study practiced MBSR once a week for an average of 30 minutes, she says it’s not known for how frequently and for how long people have to meditate to reap the brain benefits of MBSR. But every little bit helps.

“Definitely people have reported benefits from even practicing 10 or 15 minutes a day,” she says.

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