In recent years, the talk of Meditation and Mindfulness has become increasingly mainstream across the western world.
It wasn't long ago in western society, that people who meditated were considered a little loopy! During the 60's and 70's they were called hippies. In the 80's and 90's they were called new-agers. Regardless of the name-tag, anyone who meditated was usually found on the fringes of society.
Nowadays, meditation groups are popping up everywhere. Yoga-meditation is a popular class in all gyms, and you can't open a health magazine without a celebrity proclaiming the virtues of 15 minutes in the lotus position.
With this recent boom, new practitioners are aware that meditation provides a multitude of psychological benefits such as increased focus, creativity, HAPPINESS and peace of mind.
But now we have the technology to demonstrate that meditation can cause huge positive neuroplastic changes to the grey matter of your brain. A team of neuroscientists from Harvard University have proven that brain structures change after only eight weeks of meditation practice.
The tests behind this evidence involved a group of 16 people on an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course. Each participant received an audio pack containing 45-minute guided meditation exercises, including: body scan, yoga and sitting meditation. They were also taught to integrate mindfulness into everyday activities, such as eating, walking and taking a shower.
Magnetic resonance images (MRI scans) were taken of each participants brain before and after they completed the course, along with an additional set of scans on a control group of people who didn't participate.
After completing the mindfulness course, all participants reported significant improvement in measures of mindfulness, such as "acting with awareness" and "non-judging".
The incredible discovery was that the MRI scans showed that mindfulness groups increased grey matter concentration within the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction and the cerebellum. Brain regions involved in learning and memory, emotion regulation, sense of self, and perspective taking!
Britta Holzel, the lead author on the paper says, "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"
Sarah Lazar also commented,
"This study demonstrates that changes in the brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing"
As more scientific evidence is discovered, the true power of this ancient practise will be understood and hopefully taken seriously by doctors as an additional prescription combined with western pharmaceutical medicine.
Below is a guided meditation I have created to take you through the key steps in mindfulness and understand the building blocks for meditation. Enjoy! :)