Physical Changes That Come With Meditation

On an anecdotal basis, most meditators would probably agree that a daily meditation practice induces feelings of relaxation and well-being. What is less obvious is how meditation actually affects one’s brain structure and ways of reacting to the world. It has been said that a regular meditation practice will actually change one’s inner and outer world. This is the opinion of Davidji, formerly the lead instructor at Deepak Chopra’s center in Carlsbad, California and now the author of The Secrets of Meditation (Hay House, 2012). There have also been a number of scientific studies which show that one’s brain structure actually does change in a positive way.

The purpose of meditation is to obtain a quiet state of mind and to disconnect from activity. Most of us are flooded with thousands of thoughts per day. In order to achieve this state, meditation gets us to the point where we are connected to a place of stillness. We are able to reach this state by quieting our thoughts. This is accomplished in several different ways. One of these is the repetition of a particular phrase, or mantra, again and again in order to distract the mind from common, everyday thoughts. Another method is referred to as mindfulness, where thinking focuses on one object. Still another method involves visualizing a scenario which is conducive to relaxation, such as a beach scene or various forms of light or sound.

The Hindu Vedas contain some of the earliest written mentions of meditation, although it has been suggested that many indigenous cultures have engaged in meditative practices through chanting, drumming, and even gazing into campfires. In the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, a number of references to meditation are made in documents from Taoist China and India. In the 12th century, Sufism had incorporated many practices of meditation, including chanting. What is referred to as “secular” meditation had arrived in the United States by the 1960s, emphasizing stress reduction and relaxation.

A study published in the November, 2012 issue of Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, entitled “Stress Reduction in the Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease” (http://circoutcomes.ahajournals.org/content/5/6/750.abstract) by Schneider, Grim, Rainforth, Gaylord-King, Nidich, Salerno, Kotchen, Kotchen, and Alexander showed that meditation has positive effects on health. In this study, 201 people with coronary heart disease were assigned one of two tasks: to either take a health class which focused on diet and exercise or take a class on Transcendental Meditation. Researchers followed up with participants over the following five year period. The results clearly showed the positive benefits of meditation, with those meditating experiencing a 48% reduction in risk for heart attack, stroke, and death.

A 2/29/12 article in Frontiers in Neuroscience magazine, by Luders, Kurth, Mayer, Toga, Narr, and Gaser, “The Unique Brain Anatomy of Meditation Practitioners: Alterations in Cortical Gyrification” shows that actual brain structure is changed through meditation. This article points out that meditation has been known to affect several cortical regions in the brain. Gyrification is the folding of cortical matter in the brain and strongly affects its geometry. One hundred meditators and controls, carefully matched for gender and age, were examined for this factor. This article can be accessed at: (http://www.frontiersin.org/human_neuroscience/10.3389/fnhum.2012.00034/abstract).

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