(NaturalNews) Meditation isn't only a way to relax or a throw-back to the 1960s when the Beatles first made the practice popular in the U.S. In fact, in recent years, mainstream scientists have published several studies showing that mindfulness meditation, which is centered on being aware of the present moment by focusing on the body and breath sensations, can prevent and treat depression. Meditation has also been found to help chronic pain.
But what's going on in the body to produce these benefits? According to Brown University scientists, the answer appears to lie in how meditation changes the brain's rhythms.
People who meditate regularly, the researchers say, gain control over sensory cortical alpha rhythms. In simple English, this means meditation appears to change brain rhythms that regulate how the brain filters and processes a variety of sensations - including depressing memories and pain in the body.
The Brown University researchers, who just published a paper outlining their findings and ideas about how meditation works in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, base their proposal on published experimental results as well as a computer simulation of neural networks. Because mindfulness meditation training begins with a highly localized focus on body and breath sensations, the scientists write, this enhances control over localized alpha rhythms in the part of the brain (known as the primary somatosensory cortex) where sensations from different body are "mapped."
In a way, by learning to control their focus on the present moment, mindfulness meditators become able to "turn down" a kind of internal "volume knob" for controlling specific, localized sensory alpha rhythms. That seems to allow them to turn away from internally focused negative thoughts and sensations.
"We think we're the first group to propose an underlying neurophysiological mechanism that directly links the actual practice of mindful awareness of breath and body sensations to the kinds of cognitive and emotional benefits that mindfulness confers," lead author Catherine Kerr, assistant professor (research) of family medicine at the Alpert Medical School and director of translational neuroscience for the Contemplative Studies Initiative at Brown, said in a press statement.
As Natural News previously covered, meditation results in beneficial physiological changes that can be measured. For example, a recent study by University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds found that mindfulness meditation not only reduces stress but also reduces inflammation. And this is clearly important information for the countless people with diseases such as arthritis who can't take, or don't want to rely on, side effect-laden anti-inflammatory drugs.
What's more, a University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) study just published in the Association for Psychological Science journal Clinical Psychological Science found that people who reported more presence in the moment (having a greater focus and engagement with their current activities) had longer telomeres, even after adjusting for current stress in their lives. Telomeres are sort of caps at the ends of DNA that prevent the ends of chromosomes from fusing with nearby chromosomes or deteriorating. They are biomarkers for aging and are known to get shorter and shorter when the body undergoes physiological and psychological stressors.
About the author: Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA''''s "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine''''s "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic''''s "Men''''s Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.