Meditation can change the brain. Wow! Did you read that?
This post is all over the internet. In fact, the net is abuzz with the the results of a recent study at Massachusetts General Hospital, headed by Sara Lazar at Harvard University, which showed that by participating in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program, individuals were able to make what appears to be measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.
It’s not new knowledge that meditation practices can change the neurodynamics of the brain, or even that alteration in brain structure and function can be mediated by the practice of meditation. Past work by Richard Davidson and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin in Madison have shown repeatedly that, with practice, meditation can alter the physical dynamics – even structure! – of the brain.
In one study—hailed as “proving” that compassionate meditation practices were at least beneficial for the practitioner, published in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, and presented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in November 2004, Davidson and his colleagues compared a control group of college students with a group of monks who were long-term meditators. The monks had practiced between 10,000 and 50,000 hours over a period of time ranging from 15 to 40 years. What was seen was that the monks produced gamma waves that were up to 30 times as strong as the students’. In addition, larger areas of the meditators’ brains were active, particularly in the left prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain highly correlated with processing positive emotions.
What’s remarkable about the results of the recent research done by Lazar and published through a press-release on the Massachusetts General Hospital website is that these changes are seen after only 8 weeks of practice. Eight weeks! Think about it, imagine if you could learn to change the way that you responded to stress – for the better – by engaging in meditation practice for a minimum of 27 minutes a day. Would you try? What would you have to lose?
To help you in these kind of practices, starting the first week of March, I’ll be posting downloadable MP3 meditation tracks (no cost) on this site. In the meantime, I’m going to upload a PDF of a basic script that you can use to begin to practice mindfulness meditation. It’s easy to follow; just read along, taking time to pause and practice. Just click the link below. Let me know whether this works, or if you need a longer script.