Meditation for Stress Reduction

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During class there is always discussion about what people do to cope with stress, and this is something that varies for everyone. After reading through a few articles on the Internet I came across one that stood out to me in particular about a Harvard neuroscientist, Sara Lazar. The title of the article is Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how is changes the brain.

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What I enjoyed about this article was it was an interview between the author and scientist going back and fourth over a series of questions. In the first few lines of the article Lazar discuses how she was training for the Boston marathon and do to a few injuries was told from a physical therapist that is would be best to take a break from running and stretch. She talked about how she then began to practice yoga and quickly realized how it was surprisingly very beneficial. But the few lines that stuck out to me personally were, The yoga teacher made all sorts of claims, that yoga would increase your compassion and open your heart. And I’d think, Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m here to stretch. But then I started to notice I was calmer. These few lines caught my attention because I been in the same situation when I had to go to physical therapy and what I believed were pointless little exercise ended up being tremendously beneficial.

This article was written by Brigid Schulte, the director of the Better Life Lab at New America and the author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play when No One has Time. Schulte is known as a journalist and author who writes’ for publications that include The Washington Post, Slate, Time.com, the Guardian and many more. This article as I mentioned before was more written as an interview where Schulte went back and fourth with Sara Lazar a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Lazar happened to be one of the first scientists to take the claims about the benefits of mediation and mindfulness and test them in brain scans. Between both backgrounds from these very intelligent women, many of the questions that were brought up and information within the article I believe is very informal for readers.

As I read through the article, I was fascinated how Lazar did her research to prove her point about how meditation not only reduces stress but also can change your brain. A few key points in the reading were how she conducted her research, what she found, and how long the process of meditation takes before changes began to show. Lazar had conducted two different types of studies, the first was long term mediators vs. a control group, the second by taking a group of people who’d never meditated before, and put one group through an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course. The first study seemed to have gone as predicted, long term mediators have an increased amount of gray matter in the insula and sensory regions, the auditory and sensory cortex. Which to me makes senses, those people I feel show less stress and tend to be more aware because they are clam and relaxed. The second study for those who went through the eight-week course of meditation is where they found signs of the brain changing over a period of time. During that eight weeks they noted thickening in four regions. Those four regions includes the posterior cingulate (mind wandering, self relevance), the left hippocampus (learning, memory, emotional regulation), the temporal parietal junction (perspective talking, empathy, compassion) and the pons (where regulatory neurotransmitters are produced.) All four of these regions in just eight-weeks had shown change! Additionally the amygdala (the fight or flight area of the brain) had gotten smaller through the mindfulness-based reduction program. Based on Lazar study additional to meeting once a week for meditation, participants were asked to meditate once a day at home for roughly 40 minutes.

Overall I found this article incredibly interesting because it changed the way I thought about stress. By that I mean how important it is to take a small period of the day to just relax and do something that you feel is stress free. I feel inspired to try a meditation class! She also made clear for meditation that its important to find a good teacher Because its simple, but complex. You have to understand what’s going on in your mind. A question that did come to mind was, aside from meditation because it may not be for everyone, what additional exercises may also show change in those four regions if practice for a period of time?a

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