With the advent of more sophisticated brain-imaging technology in the past decade, we have been able to observe very specific ways that meditation alters the function and structure of the brain. In 2004, Richard Davidson, PhD, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that long-term meditators showed more electrical activity in the brain’s left prefrontal cortex, an area associated with positive mood, than a control group of nonmeditators. This physiological finding fits with the experience of many meditators, who find that they became significantly happier and less prone to anxiety and depression after they began to practice meditation.
Last year, Sara Lazar, PhD, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, found that brain regions associated with attention and sensory processing were thicker in meditators than in control subjects. This finding may have important implications for helping to prevent cognitive decline in older age. By offsetting the net loss of brain cells that typically accompanies aging, meditation may help to make additional brain regions available to compensate for those that are lost.
The best ways to learn how to meditate are from a meditation teacher or from audio recordings. For more details, see our topic page on mindfulness.
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Jeffrey Rossman, PhD, is a Rodale.com advisor and director of life management at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, MA. His column, “Mind-Body-Mood Advisor,” appears Mondays on Rodale.com.