Mindfulness Alters Your Brain

Mindfulness Alters Your Brain

Buddha Meditating discussed by Delia O' Riordan

 

What’s all this fuss about Mindfulness we keep hearing about? Harvard professors, neuro-scientists, and now Fortune 500 CEOs are “discovering” the mindful way of living their lives and suddenly Mindfulness is “cool”. What is it that they know that billions of others don’t?

 

 

Mindfulness Alters Your Brain

The idea of consciousness existing beyond the level of the mind is the essence of all psychic perception. When I’m engaged in psychic readings, I am aware of a change in  myself from my ‘normal’ alert state to a deeper state of silent awareness. When I close my eyes to begin a reading, I am literally shutting out the distractions of the physical world and opening my awareness to the world of subtle phenomena, the psychic realm. In order to make this shift from one level of awareness to another,  it is necessary to still the constant ‘back-chat’ of the mind.

Mindfulness Alters Your Brain

Stopping the flow of  thought has a profound effect on both the physical brain and the invisible animator of the brain, the mind. As more and more research is directed at the level of subtle perception of the mind  – from the activity of our brain cells, to organ function, quality of sleep, energy, emotional balance, and intellectual clarity  – it is becoming glaringly apparent that we have been trying to live as though the activity of our minds was largely beyond our control. We are so accustomed to non-stop mental processing  – literally, randomly  and constantly talking to ourselves mentally  (thank goodness  no one else can hear it all!) – that we think this chaotic state is ‘normal’. But what if it isn’t? What if our mental anarchy is the product of our personal up-bringing and culture and the minds of people from a different background operate differently from ours?  The practice of stilling the mind has long been part of some cultures. Studies of individuals from these ‘contemplative’ cultural traditions reveal surprising differences in the way their physical brains function which is as  close as we can get to actually tracking mental functioning. The most recent research by medical neuro-scientists into the effect of meditative states on brain functioning employs fMRI equipment create maps of which areas of the brain are activated during meditation.

‘zee leetle grey cells’…

Anyone who has read Agatha Christie’s series of novels featuring Inspector Poirot will be familiar with the term ‘ zee leetle grey cells‘ of which he was so fond. Well, we all have grey cells and until recently it was thought that after about age 20, we couldn’t increase the number of them. The theory was that when the head stopped growing so did the brain. Not so according to Sara Lazar, PhD. who is head of the Massachusetts General Hospital Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program. Her research demonstrated that in as little as 8 weeks meditators physically altered their cerebral cortex and the area of the brain known as the amygdala as well! This is an amazing finding. Dr. Lazar’s study employed state of the art MRI machines to record what was happening inside the brains of meditators vs a control group of non-meditators. The MRI films revealed that the brain does generate new ‘grey cells’ in specific areas when people meditate!

Mindfulness and You

Measurement of participants’ grey matter in the cerebral cortex eight weeks before and eight weeks after the eight week long Mindfulness Experiment revealed that the experience of emptying the mind by actually increased grey matter in that area of the brain during periods of Delta wave activity, a deep state of meditative awareness.  At the same time, the amygdala which is part of the primitive or ‘reptilian’ brain responsible for emotional arousal such as anger, rage, fight or flight reactions, etc. underwent a measurable thinning of its tissue. The control group of non-meditators showed no changes in brain structure or functioning during the 24 week period of the study.

The results of the experiment were published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging by Dr. Lazar and her team. More specifically, the “…increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection…” demonstrate that the practice of  “Mindfulness Meditation” changes brain structure and functioning as well as leading to lower stress levels and greater clarity of overall mental functioning.

Pardon the expression, friends,  but that is nothing short of mind-blowing!

© Delia O’ Riordan 2014

 If you would like to learn more about the research behind the phenomenon of mindfulness, follow the link at the end of this sentence. HERE.

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