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Meditation nourishes the brain

Thursday, October 13, 2011 by: Dave Gabriele
Tags: meditation, brain, health news

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(NaturalNews) What is it about meditation that invokes so much mystery? When asked, people conjure images of difficult lotus positions, strange beliefs and exotic settings. Of course, none of that is necessary and the realities of a person sitting comfortably on their living room floor for a few minutes isn't quite as interesting. Confounding public perceptions even more are the religious connotations that are sometimes connected to meditation. This only serves to further alienate people who could potentially benefit. This is unfortunate since it can easily be argued that prayer in any religion is a form of meditation. The practice of meditation has a long history in almost every major historical civilization and religion, yet there is so much that is not known.

When we look at the past philosophies and beliefs associated with meditation, we can understand the perspectives of the ancients according to contemporary science. Science has not replaced the old views; so far it has mostly served to strengthen many of the ancient beliefs. However, modern science has been able to fill in essential details of underlining processes.

It has been shown that meditation can increase pain tolerance (see below for sources). One study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience (2011), showed that meditation caused a 40% lowering of pain intensity and a 57% lowering of pain unpleasantness. That is impressive when you consider that morphine and other pain relieving drugs only lower these symptoms by about 25%. This relief came from subjects with no previous meditation experience who were taught basic meditation in a total of four 20 minute classes.

A number of studies that have utilized modern imaging technology, such as fMRI, have clearly shown that meditation increases blood flow to the brain and, with extended practice, actually makes significant changes to the brain's physical structure. These changes can lead to increased efficiency and function in certain parts of the brain, such as heightened visuospatial processing and increased focus.

A Harvard Medical School study (2011) put subjects on a two-month course of meditation and then used fMRI to compare the brains of the mediators with the average brain. The results showed that the subjects had increased gray matter density "in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking."

In 2010, a University of Pennsylvania Medical Center study used SPECT (single-photon emission computerized tomography) to map out the differences in blood flow in the brain between people who meditate regularly and people who do not meditate at all. Specific regions of the brain were found to have more blood flow than those of the average person. "The observed changes associated with long-term meditation appear in structures that underlie the attention network and also those that relate to emotion and autonomic function."

Meditation can also foster positive emotions and give practitioners an increased ability to deal with emotions in general such as those associated with stress and anxiety.

A 2009 study published in Neuroimage from UCLA used MRI to compare long-time meditators with novices. In the veteran meditators, they found significantly larger gray matter volumes in the right orbito-frontal cortex, the right thalamus and the right hippocampus. "Both orbito-frontal and hippocampal regions have been implicated in emotional regulation and response control. Thus, larger volumes in these regions might account for meditators' singular abilities and habits to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability, and engage in mindful behavior."

The most researched and clearly established benefit to mediation is the increased ability of attention and self-awareness. Although meditation is not yet fully understood, one thing is certainly clear: meditation nourishes the brain.

SOURCES

Increased Pain Tolerance

http://www.thedoctorwillseeyounow.com/conten...
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19073756
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20494517
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21471390
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20946990
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19853530
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21055874

Structural Brain Changes

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21071182
http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Ha...
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01...
http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/01/24/brai...
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19015095
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17596341
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15534199
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19280691
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19104459
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20141301

Emotional Effects

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19280691
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18769538
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19426817
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16938081
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21921291
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21385664
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21303197
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21058842
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20633873
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20882729
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20141295
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20129713
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20099952
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19657730
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16019582

Increased Blood Flow

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20570534
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21145215
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11306250

Increased Efficiency

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19476594
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21763432
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20509209
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17718648
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21691234
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21664467

Increased Attention / Awareness

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20430650
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20363650
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20633581
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18955268
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19653090
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20223285
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21501665
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19626355
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17672382
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20483826
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20866002
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18503485
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20013298
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19181542

Miscellaneous

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21058608
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21397868
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20670413
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20079485
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14976457
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17655980
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19476594
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12883106



About the author

Dave Gabriele, D.Ac, BA, is a registered acupuncturist, a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine and a health researcher helping people in and around the Greater Toronto Area. He is the founder of Life Balance Family Health Care (www.balanceyourlife.ca), an organization committed to providing people with the information and guidance they need to make positive lifestyle changes. Dave has been a teacher of Chinese martial arts since 1997, including the arts of Taiji and Qigong.



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