Sara Lazar, PhD, a neuroscientist in the Psychiatry Department at Massachusetts General Hospital and an Instructor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School. gives a presentation on her research findings relating to the meditation effects on the brain.
Highlights of the presentation:
Scientific research has validated the benefits of meditation, including:
- Decreased stress
- Reduced symptoms associated with:
- Enhanced ability to pay attention
- Increased quality of life
One of the important discoveries in brain science is neuroplasticity, which refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses which are due to changes in behavior, environment and neural processes. Meditation has been shown to create changes in the brain structure.
In Dr. Lazar’s research, she found that people who practice meditation develop more grey matter in certain areas of the brain compared to a control group. In one study that looked at the front of the brain important for working memory and executive decision-making, 50-year old meditators were found to have the same amount of cortex as 25-year olds, suggesting that meditation can prevent or slow down the natural decline in cortical structure attributed to aging.
In a second study, people who had no prior meditation experience were put on an 8-week meditation program. After 8 weeks, some areas of the brain underwent the following changes.
Increase in grey matter:
- The left hippocampus, which plays an important role in learning and memory and the regulation of emotions. There is usually less gray matter in this region in people who suffer from depression and PTSD.
- The temporo-parietal junction, important for perspective-taking and self-other distinction processes, and the development of empathy and compassion.
Decrease in grey matter:
- Amygdala, responsible for processing of memory and emotional reactions and the fight-or-flight response. Change in stress level correlates with change in amygdala grey matter. The more stress is reduced, the smaller the amygdale becomes.
About Sara Lazar:
Sara W. Lazar, PhD is an Associate Researcher in the Psychiatry Department at Massachusetts General Hospital and an Instructor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School. She is a Board member of the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy and is a contributing author to Meditation and Psychotherapy.
Lazar has been practicing yoga and mindfulness meditation since 1994. The focus of her research is to elucidate the neural mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of yoga and meditation, both in clinical settings and in healthy individuals. One main focus of her work is determining how yoga and meditation influence brain structure, and how these changes influence behavior.
Her research has been covered by numerous news outlets including The New York Times, USA Today, Time Magazine, CNN, ABC Evening News, National Public Radio, WebMD, the Huffington Post, and is featured in an information kiosk at the Boston Museum of Science.
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