Over the last ten years, researchers and scientists have been uncovering the physiological benefits of meditation on the brain and the body, benefits that practitioners have understood for thousands of years and western scientists are now proving. This research quantifies and scientifically demonstrates the amazing benefits of meditation practices that can improve our overall health and well-being. A new Harvard study using MRIs shows that meditation literally builds the brain's gray matter. In this study, researchers found that daily mindfulness practices resulted in a major increase in gray matter density in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection, and those same practices decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. In the November 2014 issue of Scientific American, entitled The Neuroscience of Meditation - How it Changes the Brain, Boosting Focus and Easing Stress, researchers also found that experienced meditators had a greater volume of brain tissue in their prefrontal cortex and insula, which both play a role in executive functioning and decision making, as well as processing attention, sensory information and internal bodily sensations.
Not only does meditation affect the brain, it may also play a crucial role in our overall health. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD sifted through nearly 19,000 meditation studies, and found that mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain. (Click here for more information on this study) In addition, scientists have found evidence that meditation and its positive psychological effects boost immunity, and reduce inflammation and other signs of stress in the body, even those occurring on a molecular level. A recent study at UCLA - Davis looked at the effect meditation practices have in the body on a molecular level. The enzyme telomerase is associated with the long-term health of cells in the body. Telomeres are sequences of DNA at the end of chromosomes that tend to get shorter every time a cell divides. When telomeres drop below a critical length, the cell can no longer divide properly and eventually dies. One of the central mechanisms responsible for the aging of cells is the shortening of telomeres. The enzyme, telomerase, can rebuild and lengthen telomeres. Researchers found that experienced meditators, those showing the least physiological signs of stress on the body, also had higher "telomerase" activity, suggesting that mindfulness meditation training might actually slow down the process of cellular aging and improve our overall health on a cellular level.
This research is welcome and fascinating, and we love to learn about the science and share it with you. We look forward to more research to come, but for those who practice mindfulness meditation, we don't need to be convinced, we already feel the great benefits of these ancient contemplative practices.