A Neuroscientist Explains How Meditation Changes Your Brain
Do you struggle, like me, with monkey-mind? Is your brain also a little unsettled, restless, capricious, whimsical, fanciful, inconstant, confused, indecisive, or uncontrollable? That’s the definition of “monkey mind” I’ve been given!
If you need more motivation to take up this transformative practice, neuroscience research has shown that meditation and mindfulness training can cause neuroplastic changes to the gray matter of your brain.
A group of Harvard neuroscientists interested in mindfulness meditation have reported that brain structures change after only eight weeks of meditation practice.
Sara Lazar, Ph.D., the study’s senior author, said in a press release,
“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day.”
To test their idea the neuroscientists enrolled 16 people in an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course. The course promised to improve participants’ mindfulness and well-being, and reduce their levels of stress.
Everyone received audio recordings containing 45-minute guided mindfulness exercises (body scan, yoga, and sitting meditation) that they were instructed to practice daily at home. And to facilitate the integration of mindfulness into daily life, they were also taught to practice mindfulness informally in everyday activities such as eating, walking, washing the dishes, taking a shower, and so on. On average, the meditation group participants spent an average of 27 minutes a day practicing some form of mindfulness.
Magnetic resonance images (MRI scans) of everyone’s brains were taken before and after they completed the meditation training, and a control group of people who didn’t do any mindfulness training also had their brains scanned.After completing the mindfulness course, all participants reported significant improvement in measures of mindfulness, such as “acting with awareness” and “non-judging.”
What was startling was that the MRI scans showed that mindfulness groups increased gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction, and the cerebellum. Brain regions involved in learning and memory, emotion regulation, sense of self, and perspective taking!
Britta Hölzel, the lead author on the paper says,
“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.”
Sarah Lazar also noted,
“This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”
Featured Image Credits: http://www.squidoo.com/contemplative-neuroscience
Credits: **This was originally featured on MindBodyGreen
An isolation tank is a lightless, soundproof tank inside which subjects float in salt water at skin temperature. They were first used by John C. Lilly in 1954 to test the effects of sensory deprivation. Such tanks are now also used for meditation and relaxation and in alternative medicine. The isolation tank was originally called the sensory deprivation tank. Other names for the isolation tank include flotation tank, John C. Lilly tank, REST tank, sensory attenuation tank, and think tank.
Ever thought of what it would be like to have your sensory input completely cut off while in meditation? According to many people who have tried sensory deprivation they say it is a great form of therapy.. Imagine the “distractions” being completely cut off, leaving only pure unchecked consciousness. This is the essence of what sensory deprivation is.
The History of the Isolation Chamber
“John C. Lilly, a medical practitioner and neuro-psychiatrist, developed the flotation tank in 1954. During his training in psychoanalysis at the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Lilly commenced experiments with sensory deprivation. In neurophysiology, there had been an open question as to what keeps the brain going and the origin of its energy sources. One hypothesis was that the energy sources are biological and internal and do not depend upon the outside environment. It was argued that if all stimuli are cut off to the brain then the brain would go to sleep. Lilly decided to test this hypothesis and, with this in mind, created an environment which totally isolated an individual from external stimulation. From here, he studied the origin of consciousness and its relation to the brain.
Peter Suedfeld and Roderick Borrie of the University of British Columbia began experimenting on the therapeutic benefits of flotation tank usage in the late 1970s. They named their technique “Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy” (REST). -Wikipedia
Why An Isolation Chamber?
“A sensory deprivation tank can help activate your mental powers and even open a gateway to another universe. But what can floating in a dark warm tank do for you in real life? And why would people even want to do such a thing?” -said I09.com.
A sensory deprivation tank is a temperature regulated, saltwater (Epsom) filled tank that blocks all light, sound, and creates the illusion of being “weightless” like in space. The weightless feeling comes from the salt and the temperature regulated water. The water is warmed to “skin temperature” effectively making it feel like there is nothing touching you, but you’re floating. Imagine what it would be like to put your brain in a box with nothing else stimulating it besides the vastness of your consciousness. People have reported having incredible experiences like OBE’s and traveling the cosmos, to reaching a state of peace that is so therapeutic and positive that people swear by it and now regularly have sessions in the tanks.
By comparison, characterizations of sensory deprivation like this one by comedian Joe Rogan begin to sound downright grounded — and Rogan’s descriptions of hallucinations, heightened levels of introspection, and the sensation that the mind has left the body are actually among the most commonly reported experiences among tank users. Even renowned physicist Richard Feynman described having hallucinations and out-of-body experiences while using sensory deprivation chambers. -said I09.com
If you are interested in trying Sensory Deprivation, there is good news, there are centers in nearly every city at an affordable price. You can find a center near you here: http://floatation.biz/floatfinder/
Now that we’ve gone through the history and uses of the isolation chamber, I recommend watching these short videos to get a better perspective on some of the first hand experiences people have had with sensory deprivation.