Finding time for meditation is tricky, but I steal a few moments for it whenever I can: while reclined in the dentist’s chair, waiting for the hygienist; while riding the pleasantly rumbling bus on a morning commute; and, on increasingly rare occasions, while sitting on my bedroom floor in half lotus position. At this woefully meager rate, however, enlightenment—or any of meditation’s benefits—seems miles away.
For devout meditators (some with more than 10,000 meditation hours under their belts), meditation provides clear rewards. Scientists have indicated that meditation can alter experienced meditators’ brains, changing their gray matter to improve concentration and mental health. Now, even the time-crunched masses can enjoy the positive results of meditation, reports Jason Marsh in Greater Good. A study published in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging reveals that “meditating for just 30 minutes a day for eight weeks can increase the density of gray matter in brain regions associated with memory, stress, and empathy,” Marsh writes.
Researchers studied 16 participants in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. None of them were master meditators, yet their brains were changed by 30-minute meditation sessions.
“When their brains were scanned at the end of the program, their gray matter was significantly thicker in several regions than it was before,” writes Marsh. He continues:
One of those regions was the hippocampus, which prior research has found to be involved in learning, memory, and the regulation of our emotions. The gray matter of the hippocampus is often reduced in people who suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The researchers also found denser gray matter in the temporo-perietal junction and the posterior cingulated cortex of the meditators’ brains—regions involved in empathy and taking the perspective of someone else—and in the cerebellum, which has been linked to emotion regulation.
Carving out even 30 minutes a day for meditation can feel daunting, but Marsh points out that every little bit counts: