A quiet explosion of new research indicating that meditation can physically change the brain in astonishing ways has started to push into mainstream.
Several studies suggest that these changes through meditation can make you happier, less stressed — even nicer to other people. It can help you control your eating habits and even reduce chronic pain, all the while without taking prescription medication.
But that isn’t all. Recent brain research has shown that regular meditation actually increases the brain’s grey matter. Grey matter is the brain’s workhorse, it consists of nerve cells and the interconnections between them.
The volume of grey matter normally decreases as we age. However, for those who regularly meditate, this is not the case. Meditation protects the grey matter against deterioration.
Regular meditation has also been shown to increase the size of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with attention and cognition.
It used to be thought that the brain was pretty much fixed once we reached adulthood, and a gradual deterioration was inevitable from that point on. Now we know that the brain is not fixed at all. It can regrow damaged parts, it can make new connections, and continues to respond to the stimulus we provide right up until the time we die.
It turns out that the brain is pretty much like a muscle, if we continue to exercise it, it will remain healthy. If it is damaged, it can repair itself, and it can reorganise itself in response to stimulus.
Meditation has been found to be one of the most productive ways to invoke the neuroplastic capabilities of the brain. The parts of the brain that provide us with a sense of well-being and happiness show distinct development in regular meditators. Buddhist monks who took part in research at the University of Wisconsin demonstrated marked beneficial changes in brain structure and function.