Curious about the long term effects of meditation on the brain, researchers from Boston University and Massachusetts General Hospital examined functional MRI (fMRI) images of individuals who completed meditation training for two different types of meditation practice – mindful meditation and compassionate meditation. Although the effects of meditation while a person is practicing meditation have been studied in the past, this is the first study examining the long term effects of meditation, even while the practitioner is not meditating in the moment.
Cause and Effect of Meditation
Mindful meditation is the most studied form of meditation in terms of lowering or reducing stress levels for practitioners. Study results have shown that while meditating, practitioners exhibit reduced heart rates, improved blood pressure levels and improvements in depression and anxiety. Mindful meditation is a form of meditation in which the practitioner focuses their attention on their breathing, emotions and thoughts.
Compassionate meditation is a less studied form of meditation. This type of meditation helps practitioners develop love, compassion and kindness for themselves and others.
Study participants completed an eight week training course in either form of meditation. After completing the study, they were shown images during fMRI testing. They were not meditating at the time of testing.
Study participants who completed the training in mindful meditation demonstrated decreased activity in the amygdala portion of their brain. The amygdala is responsible for memory and emotional response.
Study participants who completed compassionate meditation training showed increased activity in the amygdala. This finding indicates that study participants experienced increased emotional response to negative images. Additionally, individuals who completed compassionate meditation training demonstrated decreased levels of depression. This may indicate that compassionate meditation cultivates compassion for both meditators and others around them.
Meditating activates and cultivates various aspects of the brain and mind. Mindful meditation helps practitioners cultivate acceptance of daily events and awareness of thoughts and emotions. Compassionate meditation helps practitioners develop self forgiveness and compassion. In both forms of meditation, practitioners integrate positive benefits into their emotional responses to the world around them, even when they are not meditating.
– The Alternative Daily