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Can meditation change your brain?

Want some “lovingkindness” in your life? Meditation could offer a permanent change of mind-frame.

Buddha meditating.
Buddha meditating.

MEDITATION MAY HELP to strengthen the brain circuits associated with happiness and positive behavior – just as physical exercise strengthens muscles – according to new research.

Compassion meditation in particular aims to produce an emotional state of intense empathy, sometimes called “lovingkindness.”

Richard Davidson, a trained psychologist based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and long-term meditatior, is a pioneer of a relatively new field called contemplative neuroscience, which examines the brain science of meditation. He says that, by practicing meditation, people can become more compassionate.

Richardson told CNN:

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.

Strengthening neural systems is not fundamentally different. It’s basically replacing certain habits of mind with other habits.

A study carried out by Davidson and his team found that expert meditators – for example monks with more than 10,000 hours of practice – showed significantly greater activation of their limbic systems. Moreover, the monks appeared to have permanently changed their brains to be more empathetic.

An earlier study by the same researchers found that subjects who engaged meditation on a regular basis changed the way their brains operated – even outside of meditation.

Serious research into how the brain works became possible with the widespread use of MRI scanners, as the equipment allowes scientists to observe brain activity in relatively real time.

Davidson, who began meditating after visiting India while a Harvard student in the 1970s, insisted that the findings were not about religion or his own experiences.

He told CNN:

Meditation is mental activity that could be understood in secular terms.

Fancy some enlightenment? Check out this beginners’ guide to Buddhist meditation by Tan Ajahn Jayasaro:

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