transcendental meditation and mindfulness meditation

Mind-Body-Mood Advisor: Rewire Your Brain for Health and Happiness

Research shows that meditating not only stills your mind, it changes your brain and improves your well-being.

By Jeffrey Rossman, PhD

Mind-Body-Mood Advisor: Rewire Your Brain for Health and Happiness

Studies show daily meditation can lower blood pressure, ease anxiety, and more.

With the advent of more sophisticated brain-imaging technology in the past decade, we have been able to observe very specific ways that meditation alters the function and structure of the brain. In 2004, Richard Davidson, PhD, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that long-term meditators showed more electrical activity in the brain’s left prefrontal cortex, an area associated with positive mood, than a control group of nonmeditators. This physiological finding fits with the experience of many meditators, who find that they became significantly happier and less prone to anxiety and depression after they began to practice meditation.

Last year, Sara Lazar, PhD, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, found that brain regions associated with attention and sensory processing were thicker in meditators than in control subjects. This finding may have important implications for helping to prevent cognitive decline in older age. By offsetting the net loss of brain cells that typically accompanies aging, meditation may help to make additional brain regions available to compensate for those that are lost.

The best ways to learn how to meditate are from a meditation teacher or from audio recordings. For more details, see our topic page on mindfulness.

Also check out the remedy finder for more ways to ease stress

Jeffrey Rossman, PhD, is a advisor and director of life management at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, MA. His column, “Mind-Body-Mood Advisor,” appears Mondays on


Published on: June 15, 2009

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The benefits of imagery

From another, unrelated but sympatico Dr. Rossman, author of The Worry Solution blog ( Mindfulness meditation is a tremendously useful mind/body practice with a growing body of research to back it, and I recommend it whole-heartedly. In medical practice I often find that it is too abstract for many people and too closely associated with religious practices (though clearly it does not have to be) for others. It can also take a period of repetitive practice before providing tangible benefits. An easy alternative for most western patients is guided imagery, beginning with daydreaming yourself to a beautiful, safe place that you love to be in. fMRI shows that when we pay attention to the details, the sights, sounds, smells and feelings that we imagine there, the corresponding brain areas that serve those functions become active, and send messages of "all clear" to the hypothalamus and autonomic nervous system, replacing the "Alarm" signals that so often go with habitual worrying. Imagery is sometimes thought of in the meditative world as a distraction, but it can also be used as a bridge to mindfulness. It often provides a tangible sense of relaxation from the very first experience, and because it uses sensory elements is easier for many people to attend to at first.

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