A while back (okay, a LONG while back) my husband F sent me a link to this article on ScienceDaily: Is Meditation the Push-Up for the Brain? The article discusses the work of researchers at UCLA, who found that the brains of long-term meditators had stronger connections between brain regions than non-meditators, and their brains showed less age-related atrophy. Stronger connections means that the brain can more quickly and efficiently relay signals from one region to another. Our brains shrink and become less efficient as we age, so meditation could help people to stay sharper longer.
But if you’re not a long-term meditator yet, take heart: another study shows positive effects on brain function for beginning meditators too. This article, Meditation’s Positive Residual Effects, reports research showing that after completing an eight-week meditation class, study participants demonstrated improved emotional regulation, even when not actively meditating. Tested before and after the class, the partcipants’ brains showed a reduction in response to emotional stimuli – perhaps this could translate to an increased ability to stay calm in frustrating situations?
The study also had another finding: participants who studied compassion meditation, as opposed to mindfulness meditation, and who practiced frequently outside of class, showed the decreased response to emotional stimuli overall, but they also showed an increased response to images depicting human suffering. By meditating, these people increased their own capacity to feel compassion for others. And the study showed that those who demonstrated increased compassion also had lower depression scores. It’s scientific evidence supporting what many meditation teachers and spiritual leaders have said all along: that compassion for others makes you happier too.