This is your brain. This is your brain on yoga! Meditation to be exact. New, real, comprehensive studies are being done to prove that meditation does indeed actually transform the circuits of the brain to increase functionality, focus, empathy and happiness. How fabulous! Changes have been seen in the limbic system or the brain’s emotional command center controlling the endocrine and autonomic nervous system, the prefrontal cortex in charge of focus, thoughts and actions, and left-sided anterior region responsible for generating positive emotions. You know, just minor parts of the brain necessary for your overall energetic existence and prosperity.
But maybe you already knew this? Having your uh duh! moment? We can cut these scientists a break, as it’s only just until recently when technology and things like MRI machines could actually scientifically prove what many were just experiencing, see?
It’s a growing field called contemplative neuroscience – the brain science of meditation – and it’s gaining more credibility and perhaps even better, more funding for research. The National Institutes of Health, has upped its grants in complementary and alternative medicine ($300 million in 2007 to an estimated $541 million in 2011) , and has helped establish new contemplative science research centers at Stanford University, Emory University, and the University of Wisconsin, the soon-to-be new home of the world’s first brain imaging lab with adjacent meditation room.
How does meditation work on the noggin?
“We all know that if you engage in certain kinds of exercise on a regular basis you can strengthen certain muscle groups in predictable ways,” [Richard] Davidson says in his office at the University of Wisconsin, where his research team has hosted scores of Buddhist monks and other meditators for brain scans.
“Strengthening neural systems is not fundamentally different,” he says. “It’s basically replacing certain habits of mind with other habits.”
And you’ll never guess who’s been a big proponent of the growing research. Why, the Dalai Lama of course! And he’s actually arranged for Tibetan monks to travel to American universities for brain scans, while also participating in speaking gigs at annual meetings of the Society for Neuroscience, the world’s largest gathering of brain scientists.
Although many of the previous studies had focused on compassion meditation or “lovingkindness”, for scientific purposes, the meditation exercises have been stripped of Buddhist roots.
“This is not a project about religion,” says Davidson. “Meditation is mental activity that could be understood in secular terms.”
So if you were worried about the compassion demons invading your brain and stealing your soul during meditation, you can rest assured that only happens after a sinful round of sun salutes and a few minutes of playing dead.
File this, in the yay for science! folder.