A study at the University of Wisconsin confirms meditation can alter the structure of the brain, fostering a brighter outlook and increased empathy. Since positive thinking and emotions affect health, meditation can contribute to overall wellness.
Richard Davidson, a trained psychologist who has practiced meditation for decades, believes meditation can strengthen brain circuits connected with happiness and positive attitude in a similar way we strengthen muscles with exercise. Davidson and his colleagues have produced scientific evidence that this form of mental exercise permanently changes the brainfor the better.
Using MRI technology, contemplative neuroscientists were able to view the area of the brain, the left-sided anterior region, believed to be associated with positive thoughts. The researchers documented increased activity in this region of novice meditators who participated in an eight week mindfulness meditation course.
Davidson’s team discovered that the practice of compassion meditation also stimulates the limbic system (the brain’s emotional network) while increasing positive emotions. Expert meditators with more than 10,000 hours of practice showed the greatest activity in the limbic systems and appeared to have permanently altered their brains to generate positive thoughts.
Even outside of meditation, committed meditators permanently changed the way their brains operated.
Positive emotions and optimism are good for your health as well. Evidence shows that optimists take proactive steps to ensure wellness whereas a pessimist tends to engage in health-damaging behaviors.
Research further validates that individuals with a positive outlook have less hypertension, diabetes, and respiratory tract infections. Positive emotions also increase immunity and resistance to colds and flu, while reducing cortisol, incidence of stroke, and inflammation. As an added bonus, optimism increases longevity.
According to Health and Wellness by Gordon Edlin and Eric Golanty:
Advances in identifying the biological mechanisms of mind-body communication confirm that the mind can affect health in powerful ways.
Joy, creativity, and contentment lead to a state of harmony, which we experience as bodily health and subjective well-being.
Nerve cells in the brain’s thought and feeling centers connect to other nerve cells in the brain and body, to hormone-producing tissues and organs and to immune cells. In this way, mental activity is able to influence many of the body’s physiological processes.
Meditation isn’t just for monks anymore. Use this powerful tool to strengthen a favorable mind-body connection that supports health and watch the mind become illuminated with positive outlook.