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How Meditation Could Ease Psychiatric Disorders

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 11/23/2011 9:07 am EST Updated: 01/07/2013 2:49 pm EST

Research has shown that mediation has a multitude of health benefits, from stress relief, to lowering blood pressure, to helping people with cancer. A new study shows that it could also have effects on psychiatric disorders.

In the study to be published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Yale University found that people who are experienced meditators have the ability to turn off certain brain regions tied with daydreaming, autism and schizophrenia.

"Meditation's ability to help people stay in the moment has been part of philosophical and contemplative practices for thousands of years," study researcher Judson A. Brewer, psychiatry professor at Yale, said in a statement. "Conversely, the hallmarks of many forms of mental illness is a preoccupation with one's own thoughts, a condition meditation seems to affect. This gives us some nice cues as to the neural mechanisms of how it might be working clinically."

For the study, researchers conducted brain imaging (MRI scans) on newer and more experienced meditators, who went through three different meditation techniques. They found that when the experienced meditators meditated, a brain region called the default mode network had decreased activity. This brain region has been linked with ADHD, anxiety, and even amyloid-plaque buildup associated with Alzheimer's disease, researchers said.

In addition, when this default mode network was active in the experienced meditators, researchers found that their brain regions linked with brain control and self-monitoring were also activated. Researchers said this means that they are able avoid "me" thoughts and can keep their minds from wandering, which has been linked with psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and autism.

Check out these other ways that meditation can make us healthier:

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  • It Makes Your Brain Plastic

    Quite literally, sustained meditation leads to something called neuroplasticity, which is defined as the brain's ability to change, structurally and functionally, on the basis of environmental input. For much of the last century, scientists believed that the brain essentially stopped changing after adulthood. But research by University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson <a href="https://psyphz.psych.wisc.edu/web/News/Meditation_Alters_Brain_WSJ_11-04.htm" target="_hplink">has shown that experienced meditators exhibit high levels of gamma wave activity</a> and display an ability -- continuing after the meditation session has attended -- to not get stuck on a particular stimulus. That is, they're automatically able to control their thoughts and reactiveness.

  • It Increases Gray Matter

    A 2005 study on American men and women who meditated a mere 40 minutes a day <a href="http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1147167-2,00.html" target="_hplink">showed that they had thicker cortical walls than non-meditators</a>. What this meant is that their brains were aging at a slower rate. Cortical thickness is also associated with decision making, attention and memory.

  • It Can Be Better Than Sleeping

    In a 2006 study, college students were asked to either sleep, meditate or watch TV. They were then tested on their alertness by being asked to hit a button every time a light flashed on a screen. The meditators <a href="http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1147167-2,00.html" target="_hplink">did better than the nappers and TV watchers</a> -- by a whole 10 percent.

  • It's Better Than Blood Pressure Medication

    In 2008, Dr. Randy Zusman, a doctor at the Massachusetts General Hospital, asked patients suffering from high blood pressure to try a meditation-based relaxation program for three months. These were patients whose blood pressure had not been controlled with medication. After meditating regularly for three months, <a href="http://www.npr.org/2008/08/21/93796200/to-lower-blood-pressure-open-up-and-say-om" target="_hplink">40 of the 60 patients showed significant drops in blood pressure levels</a> and were able to reduce some of their medication. The reason? Relaxation results in the formation of nitric oxide which opens up your blood vessels.

  • It Can Protect Your Telomeres

    Telomeres -- the protective caps at the end of our chromosomes -- are the new frontier of anti-aging science. Longer telomeres mean that you're also likely to live longer. Research done by the University of California, Davis' Shamatha Project <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/apr/24/meditation-ageing-shamatha-project" target="_hplink">has shown that meditators have significantly higher telomerase activity that non-meditators</a>. Telomerase is the enzyme that helps build telomeres, and greater telomerase activity can possibly translate into stronger and longer telomeres .

  • It Can Slow The Progression Of HIV

    A 2008 study on HIV positive patients found that, after an eight-week meditation course, patients <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080724215644.htm" target="_hplink">who'd meditated showed no decline in lymphocyte content</a> compared with non-meditators who showed significant reduction in lymphocytes. Lymphocytes or white blood cells are the "brain" of the body's immune system, and are particularly important for HIV positive people. The study also found that lymphocyte levels actually went up with each meditation session. However, due to the small sample size -- only 48 volunteers -- it's harder to draw definitive conclusions.

  • Its Pain Relieving Properties Beat MorphIne

    Earlier this year, a study conducted by Wake Forest Baptist University found that <a href="http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-04-demystifying-meditation-brain-imaging.html" target="_hplink">meditation could reduce pain intensity by 40 percent and pain unpleasantness by 57 percent</a>. Morphine and other pain-relieving drugs typically show a pain reduction of 25 percent. Meditation works by reducing activity in the somatosensory cortex and increasing activity in other areas of the brain. This study also had a small sample size, making it harder to draw definite conclusions.

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    The Positive Benefits of Meditation

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