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The Science of Meditation
What was once a “far-out” idea practiced mainly by hippies and later by New Agers is becoming mainstream: Pat Carroll, coach of the Seattle Seahawks, started a meditation program for his team before their Super Bowl-winning 2013 season, and the U.S. Marine Corps is studying whether meditation can help prevent post-traumatic stress disorder.
That’s because increasingly, scientific research is finding that the practice has important benefits within the human brain. A story on abcnews.com pointed out five of those benefits:
- It makes your brain more emotionally resilient. A study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison looked at the amygdala, the part of the brain that handles emotions. The study found that meditation helped the amygdala recover more quickly from emotional distress.
- It increases self-awareness. A Harvard University study showed that after beginners took an eight-week meditation course, the gray matter in the part of their brains that handles self-awareness and compassion thickened, while the area that responds to stress shrank.
- It quiets the voices. A study by Yale showed people who meditate not only quieted the “default mode” in the brain – that tendency to obsess about things – while they were meditating. They also were able to quiet it when they were not meditating.
- It helps you focus. In a study at the University of California-Santa Barbara, researchers found that meditation helped students focus better by helping them to keep their minds from wandering. Meditation even has been shown to help students – from elementary school to grad school – do better on tests.
- It reduces stress. Three separate studies at the University of Miami examined stress levels in three groups: jailed young people, college students and Marines about to be deployed overseas. All three studies found that brief periods of meditation throughout the day helped protect the subjects against stress-caused reductions in brain function, such as problems with attention and memory.