It can make your brain grow—no, really!
A study at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston scanned the brains of fifteen practitioners (some with a lot of experience, some with very little). Those who practiced meditation the most had thicker brain cortexes (the part that deals with motor skills and sensory information) than those who practiced less. Similarly, a study at a university in Atlanta used MRI machines on older-aged adults who were experienced with Zen meditation—a type of meditation involving sitting and concentrating on breathing—and compared results with that of older-aged adults who didn’t meditate. Those who didn’t meditate had age-related declines in brain function—less focus, decreasing brain activity, and so forth. The practitioners didn’t show the same kind of correlation, which might mean that diligent meditation can slow down the mental affects of aging.
It can help you control your thoughts and feelings.
People who meditate often report that they are able to take bad news better and remain positive in most situations. Quite a few studies have reached similar conclusions based on their results. For example, researchers from the University of Queensland and the University of California, Berkeley performed an experiment on seventy-six Tibetan monks. The monks were asked to put on goggles that showed different images in each eye while their brain activities were monitored. Most people can’t help but dart between images and their brain scans demonstrate this. These monks were actually able to pinpoint their attention on one object, which could mean that they developed a superior ability to control their minds through meditation. Therefore, they’re able to better avoid the dwelling and negativity that plague the rest of us non-practitioners.
Meditation can even help people cope with stress more successfully. At the University of Oregon in 2008, researchers compared two groups of students: half were taught how to practice mindfulness meditation and the other half were taught relaxation training. After just a few days, the ones who did mindfulness meditation performed better on perception tests and showed decreased levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) compared to the relaxation group.
It can make you think about pain differently.
A study published in Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropsychology in 1996 explored how people who practiced social transcendental meditation and those who only knew of it through an introductory lecture. Researchers chose twenty-four individuals and put two of their fingers in warm water for a minute and a half, then switched to hot for thirty seconds, and then went back to warm for another minute. Their brains were scanned to show how they processed the different sensations.