Over the weekend I was spending time with one of my dear friends who happens to be a meditator and a physician. I love this combination because I am also a meditator and a physician and I enjoy having similar interests.
On this day we were discussing the importance of creating stillness and peace in our day and how the practice of meditation is essential to making that happen for us. She then went on to tell me there have been medical studies conducted with Buddhist monks that confirms that meditation changes brain chemistry.
So I looked up the study she shared with me to see what it had to say. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nov. 16, 2004 edition, and it looked at EEG of the brains of novice meditators and Buddhist monks, advanced practice meditators. The Buddhists monks meditate for approximately 10,000 hours each year – I would definitely call that advanced practice!
What the study concluded was that the monks actually had different brain chemistry than the novice meditators. The monks had a more developed frontal and pariental areas of the brain. This was a small study with only 20 participants but it is so interesting because it shows that people can alter their own brain chemistry from the inside out instead of just reacting to external stimulus.
It was also interesting that the changes that were noted in the brain happened after 5-15 minutes of meditation. There seemed to be a cumulative affect that happened over minutes of meditation practice. This makes perfect sense to me. When I first started my daily mediation practice I couldn’t sit still for 45 minutes or even 20 minutes at a time. I had to start with a 5-minute practice -- hoping that something good would happen over time. After several months I started to listen to two 5- minute meditations at a time because 5 minutes didn’t seem to be enough. Now I have advanced to 20-25 minutes of seated meditation followed by 30 minutes of yoga, which is a form of moving meditation because I practice a form that focuses on breathing in addition to movement.