How Meditation Changes the Brain

 
Neurons
 

It’s well known that London taxi drivers spend more than three years learning ‘The Knowledge’ – the ability to drive to any specified location in Greater London using the most direct route.

Less well known is the research carried out in 2000 by Dr Eleanor Maguire at University College London which showed that taxi drivers have an overly developed hippocampus. This is the part of the brain that’s responsible for memory – particularly long-term memory – and which also plays a key role in spatial navigation.

It seems that spending all that time absorbing ‘The Knowledge’ and putting it into practice “activates” this part of the brain. Similarly, research has found that regular meditation practice can physically alter your brain in a positive way too.

In 2015 research carried out by Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, found that long-term meditators have an increased amount of grey matter in the insula and sensory regions: the auditory and sensory cortex. This research also found that regular meditators had more grey matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision making.

It’s well documented in various studies that as we get older our cortex shrinks, making it harder to remember things and work things out. However, this research showed that in this one region of the prefrontal cortex, 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of grey matter as most 25-year-olds.

Furthermore, the research showed thickening in four regions of the brain:

  • The posterior cingulate, which is involved in mind-wandering, and self-relevance
  • The left hippocampus, which assists in learning, cognition, memory, and emotional regulation
  • The temporo parietal junction, or TPJ, which is associated with perspective-taking, empathy, and compassion
  • An area of the brain stem called the pons, where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced

Additionally, the amygdala – the “fight or flight” part of the brain which is responsible for anxiety, fear, and stress – got smaller. The change in the amygdala was also correlated to a reduction in stress levels.

The research showed that in just eight weeks, major changes to the brain can take place with just two twenty-minute sessions of meditation daily.

Having meditated for over forty-five years (I’ll leave you to take a guess at how old I am from that) it’s rather difficult to say if I have noticed a change in me due to meditation – but what is very evident is that I still have a great memory for faces, figures, and facts. The research backs up that meditation has likely played a key part in that.


Want to find out more aboutVedic Meditation, and how the MindMojo courses work? Book a place at one of our free, no obligation introductory talks in Brighton or London here.

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Anthony Thompson