Meditation not only reduces stress, it physically changes your brain (Harvard)

Neon head and brainInner Leadership recommends meditation as one of four ways to deepen our connection with ourselves and so increase our ability to remain calm and clear-headed at all times. Now a neuroscientist based at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School has found physical evidence for why this happens.

Comparing the brains of people who meditated with those who did not, neuroscientist Sara Lazar quickly found that people who had been meditating for several years had enhanced sensory perception. This makes sense, she said. “When you’re mindful, you’re paying attention to your breathing, to sounds, to the present moment experience, and shutting cognition down. It stands to reason your senses would be enhanced.”

But when she measured the physical brains of meditators she was amazed to discover they had:

more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision making.”

Of course, this might be because those people already had bigger brains before they started meditating. So she measured the brains of a new group of people who had never meditated: before and after they followed a mindfulness-based stress reduction programme.

After just eight weeks, Sara and her team found significant changes not only in the meditators’ mental capacity but also in the physical size of their brains:

  • A thickening of the area of the brain involved in self-definition and self-esteem
  • A thickening of the part of the brain that assists in learning, cognition, memory, and management of emotions
  • A thickening of the part of the brain involved with keeping perspective, empathycompassion, and interpersonal exchange
  • A thickening of the area that produces the neurotransmitters that determine agitation versus amiability, and which then enables us to function with greater peace and confidence
  • A shrinking of the part of the brain that worries about our fight or flight decisions

The students she studied were meditating for an average of only around 30 minutes per day. Some said they got benefits from meditating for only ten minutes per day.

You can read more in the Washington Post here with a supporting article hereJack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, starts each day with 30 minutes of meditation. Mahatma Gandhi used meditation to bring down the British empire. No wonder he said,

“I meditate every morning for an hour. And when my workload is especially high, I get up an hour earlier and I meditate for two hours.”

A daily practice of meditation reduces stress and increases our ability to focus and take decisions. It improves our memory, learning, confidence, and interpersonal exchange. It improves our ability to get things done.

Would you like to increase your self-esteem, learning, memory, empathy, sense of perspective, or your ability to manage your emotions? Would you be willing to meditate for 10-30 minutes a day and see what happens?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By dierk schaefer via

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