Stories tagged meditation


MeditationCourtesy h.koppdelany
Do you ever just need a break? How many times have you been told to just take a deep breath? Turns out that may not be such a bad idea, especially if you have coronary artery disease. Recent research by Midwest physicians took a look at the effect of regular meditation on the health of patients surviving with narrowed coronary arteries. They studied more than 200 of these high risk patients for over five years. The test half of the group received instruction and practiced daily transcendental meditation for up to 20 minutes. The meditating patients experienced close to a half as many major issues to their health such as heart attacks, strokes, and death. Death is one of those things most of us try to avoid. Scads amount of research has delved into the possible effects of a wide range of meditative practices on such things as creativity, focus, mental well-being, and even job performance. It would seem a natural thing to embrace. I can certainly think of a few Type-A personalities that could stand to hum a few bars of “ooommmmmm” during their morning commute. Take a moment and enjoy your day!

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She's actually 60 years old: And look at her huge, weird head.
She's actually 60 years old: And look at her huge, weird head.Courtesy DistortedSmile
The more I learn about meditation, the more intrigued I am by it. I mean, meditation has it all: it can allow you to freeze yourself in a block of ice, walk across a bed of hot coals, and look like you’re asleep without actually being asleep (this is all according to what I learned from television, anyway).

Now there’s a new item, to add to the list of meditation-induced superhuman qualities: a huge, swollen brain. Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted? A rippling, throbbing, , Humungus, brain? Now’s your chance.

Researchers at Harvard have shown that regular meditation thickens your cortex. Generally the cortex thins as we age, but this area of gray matter, or, as some scientists call it, “thought goo,” seems to get thicker with age, at least in folks who meditate.

The study took a group of 20 experienced meditators, and compared their brain scans with those of 15 nonmeditators. During the brain scanning, meditators meditated, and nonmeditators “thought about whatever they wanted” (so, like, cigarettes, animals in clothing, detergent commercials, and clouds shaped like stuff. You know: stuff we normals enjoy).

All participants were adults, and came from a range of professions (except for 4 of the meditators, who actually were teachers of meditation or yoga).

The scans indicated that people who meditated an average of 40 minutes a day had gray matter of increased thickness, compared to the nonmeditators. What’s more, people who had been in the habit of meditating for a longer period of time had “the greatest changes in brain structure,” suggesting that meditation was the cause for the increase in gray matter, and not that people with thick gray matter are more inclined to meditate.

The increase in thickness, it should be said, only amounts to 4 to 8 thousandths of an inch—sadly not enough to make your brain bulletproof. The difference was consistent, however between people who meditated and those who did not, and further studies are planned to examine how this change might affect the health of a meditator.

Because meditation seems to counteract thinning of the brain over time, there’s some thought that the practice could slow—or reverse—the aging of the brain.

Monks and yogis, a researcher points out, suffer from the same ailments as they age as the rest of us, but they claim an increased capacity for attention and memory.

It’s still a toss up, as far as I’m concerned. Sure, monks may enjoy a lucid old-age, but that means they sacrificed tons of time meditating in their youth, when they could have been taking hard drugs and listening to rock and roll. I suppose it just depends on where your priorities are.

Researchers at a bunch of big schools in New England have found that meditation actually changes the physical structure of the brain. Experienced meditators had thicker tissue in the parts of the brain that deal with sensation and attention. They also found – no surprise – the musicians’ were better developed in the parts of the brain that deal with music, and jugglers were better developed in the area that deal with vision and motor skills. In other words, the brain is like any muscle – use it and it grows bigger and stronger.


Medical meditation: MRI technology has been used to help trace what's going on inside of the brain of someone meditating. The findings show medical reasons why people feel better after meditaing.
“Seinfeld” was a show about nothing, but a lot people really liked it and found it a worthwhile way to spend their time.

Could it be the same kind of situation for meditation? A new study thinks so.

Like “Seinfeld,” meditation is a lot of nothing – sitting still and concentrating. But the new research has focused in why it may be so effective for its practitioners. And actually, there’s a lot more going on in your head when you meditate than you would ever imagine.

Psychologists and therapists have known for a long time that talking about your feelings allows us to have more control over them. Through meditation, that process could be happening internally.

The researchers at UCLA hooked up test subjects to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine and watched what was going on in their heads. The scans showed that putting negative emotions into words actually calmed down activity in the brain and helped people get rid of those bad thoughts.

Here’s how one step of the process worked. While hooked up to a fMRI, subjects were shown pictures of people making emotional expressions. With that, they were presented with a variety of words to describe the emotions being expressed in the pictures. For negative emotions, the fMRI recorded increased activity in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex region of the brain. That’s an area where we deal with words and language. At the same time, activity in the amygdala, our brain’s area of emotional processing, calmed down.

When the process was repeated by asking participants to give personal names to the same faces expressing emotion, the results were different. The amygdala did not calm down.

Some of the participants in the study also completed a questionnaire to see how “mindful” they are. Mediation and mindfulness are practices that people can follow to connect deeper with their emotions without having a strong reaction to them.

Those whose questionnaires showed they were more “mindful” also had strong differences in their fMRI scans between the activity in their right ventrolateral prefrontral cortex and a stronger calming effect in their amygdala after labeling their emotions.