Do you suffer from having a monkey mind? Is your brain a little bit unsettled, capricious, whimsical, restless, confused, indecisive, and uncontrollable? All these qualities all describe a monkey-mind. There is a solution for you to be more focused and to gain more control of your brain- Meditation!
If you need more convincing to try out this transformative practice, research in the field of neuroscience tells us that mindfulness meditation can result in neuroplastic changes to the brain’s gray matter. Harvard neuroscientists have been studying about mindfulness meditation and have recently reported that vital brain parts actually change with only 8 weeks of practicing meditation.
According to Sara Lazar, PH.D. the Harvard’s study lead author, “ Although practice of meditation is related to sense of peacefulness and relaxation, long-time practitioners of this type of meditation claimed that meditation also offers cognitive and psychological advantages that last an entire day.”
To challenge and test their ideas, neuroscientists enrolled 16 subjects in an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course. The course aims to deliver improvement in the mindfulness and well-being of participants as evidenced by reduced stress levels. All participants received audio recordings that contain 45-minute guided mindfulness drills that include yoga, body scan, and sitting meditation exercises. They were instructed to do all of these mindfulness exercises at home on a daily basis. To promote the integration of mindfulness in everyday life, the participants were also instructed to exercise mindfulness informally in daily activities such as walking, eating, dishwashing, and showering to name a few. On average, the group practiced meditation for 27 minutes daily infused with some form of mindfulness too.
Magnetic resonance imaging or MRI scans of participants’ brains were taken before and after meditation exercises. In addition, a control group who did not exercise mindfulness also underwent MRI scanning. Upon completion of the mindfulness course, all participants reported a great improvement in criteria of mindfulness such as becoming non-judgmental and acting with awareness.
The MRI scan on the other hand revealed that those under the mindfulness group significantly increased gray matter concentration in the left hippocampus, the poster cingulate cortex, the tempo-parietal junction, and the cerebellum. All these regions were involved in crucial functions such as regulation of emotions, memory, sense of self, learning, and perspective taking.
This research reveals that positive changes in brain structure are extra benefits that people can experience from meditation and mindfulness apart from the relaxation that it provides to its practitioners.