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How Meditation Changes the Brain

Sara Lazar | 5:21


 All right, so, uh, my name is Sarah Lazar. I am a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, and for the past about 20 years, I've been studying the impact of yoga and meditation on brain structure and function. So the first study we sort of did was, uh, we took, um, people who have been meditating for many years.

And we put them in the scanner and we compared 'em to people who had never meditated before. And we found that there were certain brain structures where they had more gray matter than controls. And uh, the areas that were larger were areas involved in sensory awareness and um, uh, which was very consistent with what we know people do when they meditate.

This is a form of meditation where you just pay attention to your senses. That first study though, was criticized because, uh, you know, meditators.  often have different diets, they have different lifestyles. So maybe it has something to do with their who these people were as opposed to their meditation practice.

So the second study, what we did was we took people who had never meditated before and we put them through either an eight week meditation program or we just scanned them eight weeks apart. And we showed that indeed there were changes in brain structure after just eight weeks, right? So this is the hippocampus, and it got bigger, as you can see.

So here are the controls, where we go, here are the controls, and here are the.  and uh, um, and also it's an area that's, uh, negatively impacted by trauma, by ptsd. And so, uh, you know, people with trauma have a smaller hippocampus. Also people with depression have a smaller hippocampi and it seems like, so it's helping reverse some of that.

Um, we also found this area of the brain, which is called the temporal paral junction. It's an area involved in. And empathy and compassion. Cause it's about being able to see things from multiple points of view, which is important both for empathy and for um, uh, creativity. And then we also found this, which is really interesting and the most relevant to hear is the amygdala, which is the main, um, part of the brain associated with emotion in particular, uh, uh, anger and, and fear that it changed.

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