Meditation Improves Brain Function
There is a great deal of evidence that meditation, in particular mindfulness meditation, improves the brain, and the research is teaching us a lot about how and why that happens.
Let’s look at some of the research. In one recent study:
“…the researchers examined participants aged 55 to 90 years old who had some form of mild cognitive impairment. Some of the participants practiced [mindfulness meditation] for eight weeks, and they ended up with improved functional connectivity in an area of the brain that’s associated with memories.”
This means that meditation could at least temporarily stave off or improve memory impairment symptoms among people with early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia, brain trauma from things like military service or car accidents, or impairment from substance abuse.
Mindfulness meditation improves the brain in other ways, not just memory. A study from Carnegie Mellon University shows how meditation, even in small amounts, relives stress. Research from Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital confirms these results. Still another study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine shows that mindfulness meditation improves immune function.
What’s incredible about all this research is that we have learned in a relatively short period of time that the brain is not static and that even when damaged, new growth and healing can take place. This is the information we use in addiction treatment to improve results. For example, while sitting in a 12-step meeting listening to stories offers camaraderie and support, it does not change the brain in meaningful ways. However, when that activity (community support and self-help) is added to intensive one-on-one psychotherapy, yoga, meditation and other whole health therapies, we see a tremendous impact on treatment outcomes. Addicts report to us that they find it relatively easy to remain sober and live a healthy lifestyle. They also report to us that this becomes more ingrained with time, so long as they maintain their meditation and therapeutic practice. Research to prove (or disprove) these anecdotal claims is welcome.
Does mindfulness meditation “cure” addiction or other health issues? No. But it is a great adjunctive therapy that is teaching us a lot about how the brain works and offers important symptomatic relief for people who suffer from a variety of disorders. At present, this research is some of the most promising in applied neuroscience. And the kicker – there are no negative side effects to meditation. Meditation is a therapy that has only an upside.