Whoa. That's wild.
Meditation is a stopping of the thought process and is also a state of consciousness when the mind is free of scattered thoughts and patterns. Meditation is awareness, and whatever you do with that awareness is considered meditation. Watching your breath or listening to the waves crashing on the shore — as long as what you're not distracted by anything else and stay focused on that one thing —is considered meditating.
We know that meditation is very good for us: it lowers stress, makes us more compassionate, and even helps us to sleep better.
"Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day," says senior author of the study, Sara Lazar. "This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements, and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing."
Previous studies have found structural differences between the brains of meditators and people with no history of meditation, but those investigations weren't able to document that those differences were actually caused by meditation. For the current study, MRIs were taken of the brain structure of 16 study subjects two weeks before and after they took part in the the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.
The study found that an average of 27 minutes of a daily practice of mindfulness exercises stimulated a significant boost in gray matter density, specifically in the hippocampus: the part of the brain in which self-awareness, compassion, and introspection are associated.
In addition, there was a decrease in gray matter density in the amygdala, an area of the brain known to be involved in the processing of fear, anger and anxiety.
In direct contrast, the control group of non-meditators had no changes in either region of the brain, indicating that the changes hadn't resulted merely from the passage of time.
"It is fascinating to see the brain's plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life," says Britta Hölzel, an MGH fellow.
This study just proves that meditation is good for your health, and your soul.