Mindfulness meditation practices change the brain. Studies by Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist and physician at Jefferson University Hospital and director of research at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health, tell us that when in the peak meditative state we connect with greater sensory input.
Newberg would know. He studies the relationship between the brain and religious experience, a field called neurotheology. Newberg has scanned hundreds of brains—including those of praying nuns, chanting Sikhs, and Buddhists in meditation. He’s written several books on the subject of meditation and neurotheology—a relatively new field that tries to lay the groundwork for a new kind of scientific and theological dialogue.
In an interview with NPR, Newberg reported scientifically measurable results working with individuals experiencing memory problems.
Newberg took scans of their brains then taught them a mantra-based meditation. The participants were asked to practice it for 12 minutes a day for eight weeks. After eight weeks, they returned for another scan, where the researchers found some significant differences that had taken place.
The participants showed improvements of up to 15 percent, Newberg reported. “This is only after eight weeks at 12 minutes a day,” he said. “You can imagine what happens in people who are deeply religious and spiritual and are doing these practices for hours a day for years and years.”
How does it work? Well, the thalamus structure in the brain is responsible for relaying motor and sensory feedback to the cerebral cortex, areas responsible for cognition. In laymen’s terms, when these areas are “lit up”—essentially from training the mind to quiet down with mindfulness, we experience improved memory, better impulse control, mood regulation, focus and concentration.
When we sit in quiet we are open to incoming data from our higher consciousness centers. When we are bombarded with noise, distraction and overwhelming emotions—such as worry, fear, anxiety, guilt, or shame—we are unable to “hear” this voice of wisdom, and deeper personal insights and understanding come through.
Brain scans are evidence meditation works, but you don’t need an MRI to confirm it. All it takes is a little instruction—like the programs we offer at Opulent Mindfulness—and regular practice, and you’ll soon discover for yourself that those 12 minutes might be the most important and essential minutes of each day.