In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Dr. Sara Lazar discussed her findings from the first neuro-imaging study on the effects of meditation and how meditation works in the brain. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of a meditative practice, but Dr. Lazar’s work is the first and, to date, only university study demonstrating the physical changes that accompany regular and sustained meditation.
Dr. Lazar become interested in meditation after using yoga to help with a running injury. Her yoga instructor included meditation as a part of the class. “…I started noticing I was calmer. I was better able to handle more difficult situations,” says Lazar. That was when she began to research the benefits of meditation. “I did a literature search of the science and saw evidence that meditation had been associated with decreased stress, pain and insomnia, an enhanced ability to pay attention and an increased quality of life. At that point I was doing my Ph.D. in molecular biology, so I just switched and started doing this research.”
Dr. Lazar’s study found that long-term meditators have an “increased amount of gray matter” in the sensory regions of the brain and that there are physical changes in the areas of the brain that aid in learning, cognition, memory, and emotions. The study also showed a reduction in the size of the amygdala, the area of the brain which controls the fight-or-flight response. Dr. Lazar extrapolates that this corresponds to decreasing stress levels and that this physical size reduction shows how meditation works in the brain.
Learn more about Dr. Lazar’s work and read the entire interview here.