Old myths are dispelled as scientists conclude that brain cells can indeed regenerate
There are countless accounts from students who meditate and say they feel energized and rejuvenated afterward. What is more striking from these accounts is how the same students, and scientists who are observing them, are finding they have improved mental capabilities that last. More specifically, studies are showing that meditation can help build, and re-build brain cells.
The idea of brain cell regeneration is almost as new as the explosive popularity of yoga and the meditative techniques that go with it. Yoga’s popularity exploded in the early 2000s, right around the time scientists concluded that birds have the capacity to keep learning new songs as their brain cells regenerate.
Bird brains show new smarts
A Smithsonian article in 2002 summarized findings from an array of studies that showed that in the brains of canaries, new neurons were being generated as the tiny birds learned new songs; neuroscientists who saw the same thing happen in humans as in the birds, which shattered prior theory that said brain cells could not re-grow.
In humans, brain cell re-growth is tied to specific activities, including meditation, says a recent study from Harvard University. The Harvard study adds evidence to that found in prior brain studies which concluded that brain cells regenerate when the brain is properly stimulated.
In the Harvard study, Harvard Psychiatry Instructor Sara Lazar, who is also part of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Neuroimaging Research program, said that the study’s results “demonstrate 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.”
In short, meditation does much more than just give you a good happy buzz, although that’s still an excellent perk, it actually helps the brain re-build grey matter. If we can re-build grey matter, we can prevent dementia, and maybe even stop the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
According to Britta Holzel, an MGH research fellow from Glessen University in Germany, says that “meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms”.
Meditation gives the brain a stimulating massage of sorts
Symptoms Glessen is referring to focus on decline of grey matter in the hippocampus region of the brain. Mediation has numerous, peripheral benefits to the heart, circulatory system and skin. Nearly every illness has some connection to stress level, says Dr. Charles Raison, MD who runs the Mind-Body program at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.
A daily meditation practice has specific, positive effects on different control centers within the brain; it improves one’s ability to empathize with others, to stabilize basic emotions, says UCLA Psychiatrist Rebecca Gladding, MD, author of “You Are Not Your Brain”.
So how do you meditate?
Its good news that meditation can help your brain just as well as crossword puzzles or other activities you might not be good at. There’s more good news when it comes to meditation; it’s not hard to do. You don’t need to be “enlightened” in some special way.
There are no “qualifications” for mediation; you don’t need to sit in some specific pose, nor do you have to visualize any specific image or “see the light”. You also don’t have to clear your head of all thoughts. It is far better to let your thoughts remain present as they are, and let them bounce around in your head and don’t fight them.
Think of your thoughts as a kite in the wind. You hold on to the string but the kite bounces around freely; you only exert a slight amount of control. If you know in your heart it is time to let go of the thoughts, and that the force is there to take them away, let the whole kite go.