Meditation can Literally Change your Brain…

…including Decreasing the Size of your Amygdala!

We are a data-driven society here in the West. Personally, I’d like to see more reliance on data to help break through the stigma and barriers that are associated with brain “plasticity” and rewiring our brains. The science is real, the conclusions are valid, and it’s just time for the rest of the medical (and patient) community to catch up.

Key Conclusions. That’s why this video really struck me. People certainly have a right to be skeptical about “new findings” (coffee is good, it’s bad, it’s good, etc.!) regarding health, but the jury is clearly in on rewiring our gray matter. People have been deriving benefits from Yoga and meditation for literally thousands of years you say? Prove it. Well, among the many studies done in recent years, this is summary by Neuroscientist Dr. Sara Lazar at TEDx in Cambridge in 2012, clearly and definitively  showed how the brain actually does change–that is,  brain structures actually increased or decreased–as a result of meditation. All the results were “positive” and people who consistently meditate were found to have increased compassion, empathy, ability to handle stress, and were, in general, “happier” than those who didn’t meditate, all other factors being equal. This is, increasingly, old news, but what’s really interesting to me is that the amygdala, the almond-sized, ancient part of the brain that handles fight or flight, actually shrinks in those who meditate consistently. This is a very big deal, because traumatized and extremely anxious people can be trapped in the fight or flight response are, in a way, held hostage to a run-away amygdala that will not stop sending danger signals, regardless of whether one is actually in danger. The possibility that the hundreds of thousands or millions of people who suffer the “negative feedback loop” of this ancient, but often dangerous survival response is nothing short of miraculous. But enough from me, take the roughly 8 minutes to find out why this is today’s Daily Grateful–and could just wind up changing your brain forever.

Want to find out more about Sara Lazar? I did. So I googled her, and found this site. I wouldn’t normally post this much of a quote, but the description about why meditation works, and what mindfulness is all about is so good, I just had to post it here, as well. When asked how yoga and meditation worked, here’s what she said:

“Not a simple question! Yoga and meditation have MANY positive effects but we don’t really know for sure how any of the benefits are brought about. Some of it is the deep relaxation that accompanies these practices – stress hormones seem to get turned down while we practice, and perhaps after much practice are less likely to get turned up so high when stressful things happen. Some of the benefits are from the enhanced concentration that is required to stay focused on the yoga posture or breathing sensations during practice. Again, people who meditate say that this helps them stay focused even when they are not practicing.”

“Finally, some of the benefits are probably from a skill called “mindfulness.” This is sort of hard to describe. Most of the time as we walk around, the little voice in our head jabbers away and makes all sorts of comments about our experience. We usually believe that the small voice is “me,” but Eastern philosophy disagrees. When you are really engrossed in something, like say a really good movie – the little voice will be quiet as we watch and absorb all the action. No judgments are being made, no thinking about how what you are watching will impact you. The goal of mindfulness meditation is to become aware of that little voice and step back from it, see if you can experience everything in that way, by just watching and listening, without getting caught up in what the little voice might be saying.”

“This is important, because for some people, the voice can cause much grief and stress. For instance, when you see a really yummy desert, just noticing the color and texture of the food, and not getting caught up in “I really want that, but it has a million calories and I’ll gain 10 pounds if I eat it. I’ve been good so maybe just a few bites as a treat. Maybe if I work-out tomorrow, I’ll burn off the calories….” When you distance yourself from the chatter, you often start to realize that you may not even really be hungry, or that you want something else. Or, if you do decide to just “have a bit,” you can often use mindfulness to eat just until you have had enough, instead of eating the whole thing out of habit, etc. Some people really beat themselves up, or worry excessively about things, so by learning to be mindful, you start to see that the chatter has little real content, and the stress it causes starts to melt away.”

Yours in Mental Hygiene,

The Ancient Brain Team


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