Meditation Changes the Structure of the Brain

Guest Blogger: Jerome Stoneclip image002 thumb1 Meditation Changes the Structure of the Brain washington post Wall Street Journal structure of the brain prefrontal cortex practice meditation nursing nurses nurse memory meditation. meditation program meditation practices meditation practice medicine medication knowledge Harvard University compassionate meditation brain bedside

Hey nerds…uh, nurses!  Did you hear that having a meditation practice will change not only your mind but your brain as well? That’s right, practicing meditation can actually positively affect the structure and the function of your brain.

And it gets better, a study done at Massachusetts General Hospital and headed by Sara Lazar at Harvard University, showed that by participating in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program, individuals were able to make what appears to be measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress!

It’s not new knowledge that those who have extensive experience with meditation practices can change the neurodynamics of the brain, or even that alteration in brain structure and function can be mediated by the practice of meditation. Past work by Richard Davidson and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin in Madison has shown that with practice, meditation can alter the physical dynamics – even structure! – of the brain.

In 2004 Davidson completed one study, published in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, and presented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that was hailed as “proving” that compassionate meditation practices were at least beneficial for the practitioner.

Davidson and his colleagues compared a control group of college students with a group of monks who were long-term meditators. The monks had practiced between 10,000 and 50,000 hours over a period of time ranging from 15 to 40 years. What was seen was that the monks produced gamma waves that were up to 30 times as strong as those of the students. In addition, larger areas of the meditators’ brains were active, particularly in the left prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain highly correlated with processing positive emotions.

So, here’s what makes Lazar’s study so amazing; the changes that were seen in novices who participated in this study occurred after only 8 weeks of practice. Eight weeks! Think about it, imagine if you could learn to change the way that you responded to stress – for the better – by engaging in meditation practice for a minimum of 27 minutes a day. Would you try? What would you have to lose?

Here’s a press-release on the Massachusetts General Hospital website about Lazar’s study. Check it out.

Why does research really matter when we know, through over two thousand years of first-person, personal testimony that meditation and contemplative methods work? We’re Westerners! We love science! We love “evidence-based” data. And that’s cool, because so much is being done in the arena of research into mind-body practices. Here’s a link [put link in here for MBS science blog page] to more posts on the science of meditation. Also, check out this search [put link in here for PubMed search] on PubMed for articles related to meditation.

To help you in your meditation practice, here’s a PDF of a basic script that you can use to begin to practice mindfulness meditation. It’s easy to follow; just read along, taking time to pause and practice. Just click the link below. Let me know whether this works, or if you need a longer script.

BASIC MINDFULNESS SCRIPT

So what do you think, would you like to change your mind…and your brain in how you deal with stress, increase your ability to modify your immune response, and…even be more compassionate with your patients…and yourself?

[Brittney – You can decide whether to keep or delete the following paragraph. It’s “self-promotional” on my part and doesn’t need to be part of this post if it isn’t appropriate. Use your judgment on this one.]

For more information on meditation and how nurses can benefit from its practices, and for tons of free content including two free ebooks, downloadable audios and videos and more, check out the site Minding the Bedside.

About the Author

image thumb7 Meditation Changes the Structure of the Brain washington post Wall Street Journal structure of the brain prefrontal cortex practice meditation nursing nurses nurse memory meditation. meditation program meditation practices meditation practice medicine medication knowledge Harvard University compassionate meditation brain bedside  Jerome Stone is an RN with over thirty years in healthcare including pain management, hospice, ICU, and research in complimentary medicine. He is the author of Minding the Bedside- Nursing from the Heart of the Awakened Mind with a goal to help nurses learn “how to bring more awareness and compassion to the bedside.” He blogs at Minding the Bedside
You can also connect with him on
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Comments

  1. says

    Great article, Jerome! I love how all of the science is starting to show this and will hopefully wake people up to the benefits of meditation!!! I think that your PDF is a wonderful gift, what a resource! Thank you. I have saved it myself. Now I practice daily, but I have to say- I still realize “What the heck… I am thinking! I am distracted… what’s with all of these thoughts!?!” Thank you again for that gentle reminder that there is no reason to beat myself up… that just being with the practice and coming back and back (and back) to the breath again and again is where the benefits truly come from. Thank you! Beautiful article. Have a healthy day, Elizabeth

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