Reasons to Meditate – Scientific Research

If we are going to feel inspired to meditate regularly, we need to know what benefits our efforts can bring.

There is growing scientific evidence that meditation has a positive effect on our health and well-being, and meditation techniques are routinely used in the treatment of stress, depression and a wide range of medical conditions. In recent years there has been a rapid increase in the number of reputable scientific studies being undertaken into the beneficial effects of meditation on human well-being and on the neurological activity of the brain.

Here are a few sample links to ongoing scientific research that may be of interest.

Mind Life Institute
Centre for Investigating Healthy Minds – Richard Davidson
Centre For Mindfulness Research And Practice at Bangor University.
Shamatha Project
Podcast & Video on Meditation and Science – Daniel Goleman

Some of the findings that have been revealed through scientific research:

Neuroplasticity

Scientist looking at brainscans on computer screensThe brain has the ability to change its structure and function – strengthening  and expanding circuits that are frequently used, and weakening and shrinking those that are rarely engaged. This flexibility in the brain is what is called ‘neuroplasticity’, and explains why meditation can have a lasting effect on the way we process thoughts and emotions.

Some books on neuroplasticity:
The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force, J. M. Schwartz, S. Begley, Harper Perennial, 2003.
The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph From the Frontiers of Brain Science. N. Doidge, Penguin, 2007.
Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves, S Begley, Ballantine Books, 2007.

Prefrontal cortex

Neuroscientist have discovered that meditation can stimulate significant increases in activity in several parts of the left prefrontal cortex—an area of the brain associated with positive emotions, such as happiness, enthusiasm, joy and self-control. Meditators also showed a decreased level of activity in the parts of the brain related to negative emotions, such as depression, self-centredness and a lack of happiness or satisfaction. Meditation produces a calming effect in the amygdala, the part of the brain that acts as a trigger for fear and anger.
A Lutz, LL Greischar, NB Rawlings, M Ricard and RJ Davidson, Long-term Meditators Self-induce High-amplitude Gamma Synchrony During Mental Practice, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, November 16, 2004, volume 101, number 46.

Depression

Studies have shown that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy can halve the rate of relapse in people who have suffered two or more episodes of serious depression.
Teasdale, J. D., Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M., Ridgeway, V. A., Soulsby, J. M., & Lau, M. A. (2000).

Prevention of relapse/recurrence in major depression by mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68(4), 615–23.

There is also a book on the subject: Segal, Z.V., Williams, J.M.G., & Teasdale, J.D. (New York: Guilford Press, 2002), Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression: A new approach to preventing relapse.

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