Mindfulness and the Brain
Dawson Church, a previous guest on my podcast recently released a book called "Mind to Matter". I’m loving this book right now and his case for the primacy of consciousness and its shaping of reality. For those of you not up on this centuries-old debate, essentially the arguments are one camp, the materialists, contending that consciousness/awareness is an epiphenomenon of matter. The opposite viewpoint made by post-materialists/spiritual traditions/pre-decartes humans is that consciousness is the foundation of and source of matter. For those interested in learning more on the later, you can explore the work of Dean Radin and IONS.
Back to Dawson's book.... he reports an anecdotal study performed by Australian journalist, Graham Phillips, and Graham’s personal investigation into Mindfulness meditation’s effects on his brain. You can view the 30-minute tv report here.
Graham hooked up with a research team at Monash University to obtain baseline values for standard behavioral and neurological tests including MRI. After 2 months, one of the most significant changes was Graham’s increased performance in cognition - decreased distractibility, increased reaction time and increased working memory. At the same time, he had a simultaneous decrease in neural activity. So, what does this mean? Mind-Brain efficiency. Of course this is an objective measure. What’s most important is how someone feels after 2 months of Meditation - why else would you do it?! Graham reports not only feeling more at ease, but also noticing stress without becoming entangled with it. This is commonly reported over and over by practitioners with a regular meditation practice.
In addition to increased performance, his MRI revealed a 22.8% increase in the grey matter of the Hippocampus. The grey matter is the nerve cell bodies and dendrites that communicate information electro-chemically. This neurogenesis in Graham's Hippocampus, the learning and memory area of the brain, allowed Graham a greater degree of control over his Default Mode Network (DMN). The DMN is a crucial network in the brain, and when overactive, pivotally involved in rumination, anxiety, storytelling and generalized anxiety. It is also positively affected by a meditation practice.
Dr. Richard Chambers who consulted Graham in his 2-month journey says: “A paper that came out last year (2015), a meta-analysis, has found that it's as effective as antidepressants for preventing relapse, which is a pretty significant finding. Depressive thoughts that go through people's minds that they don't normally notice, they're just running in the background like an app and reducing people's mood. So mindfulness helps them to notice that and then just to recognize it as a thought rather than taking it seriously, believing it, trying to push it away, which then gets the attention very much caught up in that kind of rumination. Just noticing it, let it go, bring the attention back to the present. “
Another important effect of meditation is the reduction in stress hormones Adrenaline and Cortisol, both of which according to Dr. Elissa Epel Telomere researcher at UCSF, accelerate the aging process. As you can see, the mind is shaping our biology whether we aware of it or not and the salient point meditation makes is: stress is not the situation, it’s the way we relate to the situation.