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The Science of Meditation: Can it Improve Neuroplasticity?

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Our brains are dynamic by nature, built to be adaptable and resilient. Science calls this quality neuroplasticity. This is the reason why stroke patients can relearn skills. Our brains actively grow and rewire themselves in response to new learning and stimulation. For this reason, many people use brain training to help them remember people’s names and generally keep their brains healthy.

Meditation for Mental Fitness

Scientists believe that physical exercise improves blood flow to the brain, which helps improve neuroplasticity. Now, a recent study indicates that meditation has positive effects on neuroplasticity. Many long-term benefits of meditation are backed by science, including managing chronic health conditions, improving focus and concentration, and improving mood. This one explores which areas of the brain were affected by different types of meditation.

More specifically, the study found that different types of meditation affect different parts of the brain, from increasing attention span to making a person more empathetic, lowering stress levels to helping a person deal with pressure.

In addition, the study indicates that practicing different types of meditation results in different parts of the brain going through structural changes, giving us impressive evidence that brief, concentrated meditation can improve neuroplasticity in adults.

Details of the Study

The study included a sample size of 300 people divided into three different groups. Each group practiced a different type of meditation. The researchers collected longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data during the nine months of mental training through meditation.

Group 1: Breathing Meditation and Body Scan

The first group practiced a body scan meditation that focused on the sensations of breathing and various parts of the body, while also focusing on the sensations occurring in these body parts. The participants also practiced walking meditation and meditations focusing on sound, vision, and taste.

These practices required mindfulness in everything and a careful focus on moment-to-moment experience, noticing distractions, and reorienting to the meditation’s focus object.

Group 2: Loving-Kindness Meditation

The second group of participants practiced Loving-Kindness Meditation. This involved introducing them to ways of connecting with feelings of love and care and then directing those feelings toward themselves and others.

To sustain these feelings, participants were asked to repeat phrases like “May you be healthy,” “May you be happy,” and “May you be safe.”

Group 3: The Affect Dyad

Group 3 tried “The Affect Dyad.” This is a partner exercise where two people sit facing each other and take turns discussing difficult situations for which they were grateful. This exercise helps cultivate empathic listening, observing painful, complex feelings, and developing gratitude.

Results of the Study

The researchers collected data with MRI brain scans, behavior tests, and psychosocial brain tests. Upon analyzing the data, different areas of the brain noticed changes based on the type of meditation.

For instance, researchers found changes in the cortex of participants who practiced mindfulness meditation. These changes were related to executive functioning and attention. In contrast, researchers found changes in the limbic systems, an area of the brain associated with emotion. All the groups reported a reduction in stress in their lives, and their cortisol levels dropped up to 51 percent.

The second two groups also showed selective behavioral improvements in compassion and perspective. These behavioral changes correspond with the degree of structural brain plasticity in regions in the cortex that supports these emotions.

What We Learned from the Study

While many regular meditators believe in the positive effects of meditation and have seen them in themselves, it’s nice to know that there is science to back it up. This study shows that all forms of meditation have a positive benefit on mental wellbeing. And that meditation may be the ultimate brain training practice. The results of this study can help you choose the type of meditation you’d like to practice.

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Stephany
GR8NESS Writer
Stephany is a GR8NESS Contributing Editor who writes about pet care, CBD, stress, self care, meditation, time management, brain training, and natural remedies with a focus on the science behind it all. She has three dogs, three cats, walks half marathons, and practices yoga and powerlifting. You can often find her training her dogs or experimenting with new flavors in the kitchen.
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