Numerous studies have indicated the many physiological benefits of meditation, and the latest one comes from Harvard University.
An eight week study conducted by Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) determined that meditation literally rebuilds the brains grey matter in just eight weeks. It’s the very first study to document that meditation produces changes over time in the brain’s grey matter. (1)
“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day. This study demonstrates 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.” – (1) Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School Instructor in Psychology.
The study involved taking magnetic resonance images (MRI) of the brain’s of 16 study participants two weeks prior to participating in the study. MRI images of the participants were also taken after the study was completed.
“The analysis of MR images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.”
For the study, participants engaged in meditation practices every day for approximately 30 minutes. These practices included focusing on audio recordings for guided meditation, non-judgmental awareness of sensations, feelings and state of mind.
“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life. Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.” – Britta Holzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany
Transcendental Meditation TM technique is easy to learn and enjoyable to practice, and is not a religion, philosophy, or lifestyle. Over six million people have learned it — people of all ages, cultures, and religions. And it does not require any lifestyle changesPeople practice TM twice a day for 15 to 20 minutes. That usually means once in the morning before breakfast and once in the afternoon before dinner.
TM does not require any strenuous effort. Nor does it require concentration, or contemplation. Instead, students are told to breathe normally and focus their attention on the mantra.
A few reports suggest that meditation can cause or worsen symptoms in people with certain psychiatric conditions or produce feelings of disorientation and anxiety. If you have an existing mental condition, consult your doctor before starting TM. Also let your meditation instructor know about your condition.
The TM technique allows your mind to easily settle inward, through quieter levels of thought, until you experience the most silent and peaceful level of your own awareness — pure consciousness.
The TM technique’s effectiveness is the same whether you believe it will work or are completely skeptical. That’s because it automatically and effortlessly allows your active thinking mind to settle down to a state of deep inner calm.
Extensive peer-reviewed published research on the TM technique has found a wide range of wellness benefits including:
Tuning out: How brains benefit from meditation
Experienced meditators seem to be able switch off areas of the brain associated with daydreaming as well as psychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia, according to a new brain imaging study by Yale researchers.
Less day dreaming has been associated with increased happiness levels, said Judson A. Brewer, assistant professor of psychiatry and lead author of the study published the week of Nov. 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Understanding how meditation works will aid investigation into a host of diseases, he said.
“Meditation has been shown to help in variety of health problems, such as helping people quit smoking, cope with cancer, and even prevent psoriasis,” Brewer said.
The Yale team conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging scans on both experienced and novice meditators as they practiced three different meditation techniques.
They found that experienced meditators had decreased activity in areas of the brain called the default mode network, which has been implicated in lapses of attention and disorders such as anxiety, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, and even the buildup of beta amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s disease. The decrease in activity in this network, consisting of the medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortex, was seen in experienced meditators regardless of the type of meditation they were doing.
The scans also showed that when the default mode network was active, brain regions associated with self-monitoring and cognitive control were co-activated in experienced meditators but not novices. This may indicate that meditators are constantly monitoring and suppressing the emergence of “me” thoughts, or mind-wandering. In pathological forms, these states are associated with diseases such as autism and schizophrenia.
The meditators did this both during meditation, and also when just resting — not being told to do anything in particular. This may indicate that meditators have developed a “new” default mode in which there is more present-centered awareness, and less “self”-centered, say the researchers.
“Meditation’s ability to help people stay in the moment has been part of philosophical and contemplative practices for thousands of years,” Brewer said. “Conversely, the hallmarks of many forms of mental illness is a preoccupation with one’s own thoughts, a condition meditation seems to affect. This gives us some nice cues as to the neural mechanisms of how it might be working clinically.”
Other Yale researchers are Patrick D. Worhunsky, Jeremy R. Gray and Hedy Kober.
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and U.S. Veterans Affairs New England Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center. The work of one researcher in the above study was partially funded by the Yale Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) grant from the National Center for Research Resources at the National Institutes of Health.
“Transcendental meditation is a simple, natural technique… This form of meditation allows your body to settle into a state of profound rest and relaxation and your mind to achieve a state of inner peace, without needing to use concentration or effort.”
“Transcendental Meditation doesn’t focus on breathing or chanting, like other forms of meditation. Instead, it encourages a restful state of mind beyond thinking… A 2009 study found Transcendental Meditation helped alleviate stress in college students, while another found it helped reduce blood pressure, anxiety, depression and anger.”
“A study published in the journal Circulation found that practicing Transcendental Meditation can lower blood pressure and your risk for heart attack and stroke. It could also cut your risk for Alzheimer’s Disease by strengthening the communication between different parts of your brain.”
Gary Kaplan, M.D.
NYU Medical School
“Though TM is a mental technique, due to the mind-body relationship the practice has extensive physiological effects. TM allows the mind to settle very deeply inward—in a natural way. TM teachers call this effortless transcending. It’s what sets TM apart and why the technique is so beneficial for mind and body, right from the start.”
“A year and a half ago my anxiety was so great, I barely felt like showing my face in public. Since I learned TM, anytime I leave the house, I feel a fearless sense of mastery of any social situation. TM has helped my self confidence by putting into perspective that all beings are worthwhile, including myself.”
“I’m a special ed teacher—the most stressful job in education. TM recharges and nourishes me physically, spiritually, and mentally. I end the day feeling as good as I started—enthusiastic, positive, and committed to what I do. TM allows me to fully engage.”
”Before TM, I felt a lot of anxiety about the future. I was restless and didn’t sleep well. Since starting TM, I’m much calmer and don’t concern myself as much with what is going to happen tomorrow. There’s an ease that wasn’t there before, and I sleep much better.”
“I was interested in the TM program but I was skeptical at the same time. The power of the TM meditation—it really came out fast, and it was surprising to me. Having that inner peace after meditation really emboldened me to deal with things that I’d been just kind of stuffing away. To be able to have relief from agitation, have relief from anger, frustration, sleeplessness, alcoholism, drug addiction… that’s huge.”
What is a Mantra?
Source: Chopra Center meditation:
The word mantra has two parts: man, which is the root of the Sanskrit word for mind; and tra, which is the root of the word instrument. A mantra is therefore an instrument of the mind, a powerful sound or vibration that you can use to enter a deep state of meditation.
According to the Vedic tradition, the ancient sages were able to hear the subtle vibrations produced by everything in nature―the sounds of the wind, thunder, butterflies, rushing rivers and all other creations. They recognized that these sounds are the manifestation of spirit into matter. They identified “Om” (or aum) as the most elemental sound, representing the infinite universal consciousness. For thousands of years, people have used this mantra to expand their awareness of the divine.
The ancient seers also identified all the primordial vibrations or mantras that make up the universe and these were eventually recorded in the Vedic literature―the four texts that form the basis for the Hindu religion. You can actually hear all the mantras yourself if you sit quietly. You’ll notice a background hum in the air, and as you practice focusing on that hum, you’ll ultimately hear every mantra the sages recorded long ago.
Why do we silently repeat the mantra?
Silently repeating a mantra as you meditate is a powerful way to enter the silence of the mind. As you repeat the mantra, it creates a mental vibration that allows the mind to experience deeper levels of awareness. As you meditate, the mantra becomes increasingly abstract and indistinct, until you’re finally led into the field of pure consciousness from which the vibration arose.
Repetition of the mantra helps you disconnect from the thoughts filling your mind so that perhaps you may slip into the gap between thoughts. The mantra is a tool to support your meditation practice. Mantras can be viewed as ancient power words with subtle intentions that help us connect to spirit, the source of everything in the universe. As you experience deeper meditative states, all thoughts and worries drop away and you experience the quiet that always exists beneath the noisy internal dialogue of the mind. In this stillness you may feel oneness with all life and profound peace.
Why do we use different mantras each day?
Each mantra induces specific vibrations in the mind, which is why people use different mantras depending upon their intentions. However, mantras don’t have particular meanings―they are simply vibrations of consciousness. When they’re silently repeated, they help us disconnect from the thoughts filling our mind and slip into the gap between thoughts. Since each mantra induces specific vibrations in the mind, Deepak uses a variety of them throughout the Meditation Experience to align with the daily message and meditation.
What if I do not pronounce the mantra correctly?
Some spiritual traditions put great emphasis on the correct pronunciation of mantras. After decades of experience, the perspective of Deepak and the Chopra Center is that the exact pronunciation of the mantra doesn’t matter at the non-local level of intelligence. If someone tries to maintain distinct pronunciation while the mind is in the process of transcending, the conscious effort for right pronunciation will undermine the natural meditation process.