What is meditation?


To start, here's a video of Osho explaining in further detail:


OSHO: The Role of Meditation


Devotees of mindfulness meditation—often described as non-judgemental attention to present moment experiences—will be well-versed in the many benefits of their practice.

Benefits include the following:

  • More focused attention
  • Relaxation
  • Positive shifts in mood
  • Enhanced self-awareness
  • Improved health and well-being


The Positive Health Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation


The strongest scientific evidence to date that meditation has positive health benefits comes from two meta-analyses (analyses of data pooled from multiple studies) of meditation research. The first meta-analysis of 47 trials with 3,515 participants found that people participating in mindfulness meditation programs experienced less anxiety, depression, and pain.

The second meta-analysis of 163 studies found evidence that meditation practice is associated with reduced negative emotions and neuroticism, and the impact of meditation was comparable to the impact of behavioural treatments and psychotherapy on patients.

Because of the increasing popularity of mindfulness meditation, and mounting evidence that meditation has wide-ranging and measurable effects on many aspects of health, neuroscientists too are becoming interested in understanding the biological mechanisms that underlie these effects in the brain.


Evidence that Mindfulness Meditation Affects the Brain


Last year an extensive review was published in the top-flight journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience. The review, “The Neuroscience of Mindfulness Meditation,” took a look at the current state of neuroscience research on mindfulness meditation. The authors included Yi-Yuan Tang, a mind-body medicine researcher at the Department of Psychological Sciences, Texas Tech University, who also practices Chinese medicine; Britta Holzel, a neuroscientist and yoga teacher at the Department of Neuroradiology, Technical University of Munich; and Michael Posner, a psychologist at the University of Oregon.

“Although meditation research is still in its infancy, a number of studies have investigated changes in brain activation at rest and during specific tasks that are associated with the practice of, or that follow, training in mindfulness meditation,” write the authors. “There is emerging evidence that mindfulness meditation might cause neuroplastic changes in the structure and function of brain regions involved in regulation of attention, emotion and self-awareness.”


Mindfulness Meditation Changes Brain Structure


Over the past decade, numerous neuroimaging studies have investigated changes in brain morphology related to mindfulness meditation. In an attempt to consolidate the findings, one meta-analysis pooled data from 21 neuroimaging studies examining the brains of about 300 experienced meditation practitioners. The study found that eight brain regions were consistently altered in the experienced meditators.

The eight brain regions included the following:

  • Rostrolateral prefrontal cortex: A region associated with meta-awareness (awareness of how you think), introspection, and processing of complex, abstract information.
  • Sensory cortices and insular cortex: The main cortical hubs for processing of tactile information such touch, pain, conscious proprioception, and body awareness.
  • Hippocampus: A pair of subcortical structures involved in memory formation and facilitating emotional responses.
  • Anterior cingulate cortex and mid-cingulate cortex: Cortical regions involved in self-regulation, emotional regulation, attention, and self-control.
  • Superior longitudinal fasciculus and corpus callosum: Subcortical white matter tracts that communicate within and between brain hemispheres. 

The specific ways in which the brain regions changed varied by study (different studies used different neuroimaging measurements), but changes were seen in density of brain tissue, thickness of brain tissue (indicating greater number of neurons, glia, or fibres in a given region), cortical surface area, and white matter fibre density.

The effect of meditation on these particular brain structures appeared to be about “medium” in magnitude—effect sizes that are comparable to the roughly “medium” effects of many other behavioural, educational, and psychological interventions.

Because so many regions were found to be involved in mindfulness meditation, including cerebral cortex, subcortical white and grey matter, brain stem, and cerebellum, Tang, Holzel, and Posner suggested in their review that the effects of meditation might involve large-scale brain networks and multiple aspects of brain function.


Mindfulness Meditation Alters Patterns of Brain Activity


Brain imaging studies can reveal not only changes in brain structure, but also changes in brain activation patterns. In their review, Tang, Holzel, and Posner also investigated whether mindfulness meditation exerts its effects via altered activation of brain regions involved with emotional regulation, attention, and self-awareness.

One hypothesis driving emotion regulation is that mindfulness meditation strengthens prefrontal higher order cognitive (thinking) processes that in turn modulate activity in brain regions relevant to emotion processing, such as the amygdala. A number of brain-imaging studies appeared to support this hypothesis.

Buddhist philosophy teaches that identification with the static concept of “self” causes psychological distress. Studies of mindfulness meditators have shown training to be associated with more positive self-representation, higher self-esteem, and higher acceptance of oneself. Such concepts are not easy to capture in neuroscientific studies. However, multiple studies show the insular is strongly activated during meditation. This is thought to represent amplified awareness of the present moment experience. “This shift in self-awareness is one of the major active mechanisms of the beneficial effects of mindfulness meditation,” write Tang, Holzel, and Posner.


Future Questions for Mindfulness Meditation Research


Despite the enthusiastic reporting of positive findings on the effects of meditation on the brain, it should be pointed out that mindfulness meditation research is a young field, and many studies are yet to be replicated.

Nonetheless, Tang, Holzel, and Posner concluded, “… the practice of mindfulness meditation might be promising for the treatment of clinical disorders and might facilitate the cultivation of a healthy mind and increased well-being.”

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program. References is:


Meditation Helps Memory Loss Patients

Written by Petra Rattue
Published: Friday 2 March 2012

The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine reports that researchers from the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital have discovered that adults with memory impairment and memory loss may benefit from mantra-based meditation, which has a positive effect on people's emotional responses to stress, fatigue and anxiety.

For their study, the researchers enrolled 15 older adults with memory problems that ranged from mild age-associated memory impairment to mild impairment, with Alzheimer's disease on a Kirtan Kriya (KK) mantra-based meditation course, that involved 12 minutes of meditation, per day, for a period of eight weeks, and a control group to listen to classical music for the same amount of time over 8 weeks.

Preliminary findings revealed a substantial increase in cerebral blood flow in the patients' prefrontal, superior frontal, and superior parietal cortices, and also better cognitive function.

Andrew Newberg, M.D., director of Research at the Jefferson Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine explained:

"We sought to build on this research to determine if changes in cerebral blood flow (CBF) had any correlation with changes in patients' emotional state, feelings of spirituality and improvements in memory. Age-associated cognitive impairment can be accompanied by depression and changes in mood. There is data suggesting that mood disorders can aggravate the processes of cognitive decline."

The findings demonstrated that participants in the meditation group showed some improvement in fatigue, tension, anger, confusion and depression, and whilst the researchers noted a substantial improvement in tension and fatigue, compared with the control group, they did not observe significant changes with regard to spirituality scores.

They examined the participants' brains and other regions of interest (ROI) by using single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scans at baseline and at 8-weeks. The location of the scans was based on regions that the researchers earlier found were affected during the meditation tasks, and that are involved in various cognitive and affective responses.

The results showed an important relationship between the change in CBF and the change of the patients' reported mood states. For instance, whilst regions like the amygdala, which impact memory formation and storage linked to emotional events, as well as the caudate, which is thought to be strongly involved in learning and memory related to depression scores, areas like the prefrontal cortex, inferior frontal lobe, parietal region, and cingulate cortex were related with tension.

The fact that researchers observed substantial associations between improved scores for confusion, depression and change in verbal memory indicates that improvements of depression and confusion are linked to cognitive improvement.

Dr. Newberg concludes:

"This study is one of a growing body of neuroimaging studies to illustrate the neurological and biological impact of meditation, highlighting brain regions that regulate attention control, emotional states, and memory. It is a first step in understanding the neurophysiologic impact of this and similar meditative practices."



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