Meditation Improves Personal Well-Being


Meditation can alter brain’s structure to decrease levels of anxiety and stress


Deep breaths. Clear mind. Meditation is a restorative tool that millions of people around the world use to better their overall well being. Among those millions are many ELHS students and staff.

In 2011, an eight-week study with 16 participants was conducted at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. It was called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR); the program studied the changes in the brain’s gray matter as a direct result of meditation, according to the Harvard Gazette.

Sophomore Tara Guttman meditates in the fresh air.

Magnetic resonance images were taken of the brain’s structure before and after the participants took part in the program. Afterwards, the images showed an increase in gray matter in the hippocampus, which is important for learning, memory, and compassion. There was a decrease in gray matter in the amygdala, which plays a role in stress and anxiety.

Gray matter is the darker tissue of the brain and spinal cord. It is rich in nerve cell bodies; therefore, it is better to have more gray matter in the hippocampus and less in the amygdala.

Changes in the brain are due to the brain’s ability to adapt as a result of experience, called neuroplasticity. A decrease of gray matter in the amygdala caused a reduction in stress.

Based on the results of the MBSR study, practicing meditation can alter the brain’s plasticity and structurally make changes in the amygdala and hippocampus.

Science teacher Victoria Thomson uses meditation as a tool to become more stable and intentional in her actions.

“I felt like it was so hard for me to go from moment to moment. I wanted to be able to do that more gracefully. I need to recognize that there is time to pause, and not be rushing constantly. I could think about what I wanted the reaction to be. In some ways, I have more control over my body and mind,” Ms. Thomson said.

The relaxation Ms. Thomson describes is not a placebo. According to cardiologist Herbert Benson, professor of mind and body medicine at Harvard Medical School, the relaxation response received from meditation lowers blood pressure, improves heart rate, breathing, and brain waves.

Two years ago, sophomore Tara Guttman heard about the benefits of meditation and decided to try it out.

“When you first start meditation, your thoughts jump into your brain. That’s what it feels like. It’s hard to not think and not let your thoughts wander. Over time, it definitely gets easier,” Guttman said.

Ever since she began meditation, she noticed a change in her stress levels and emotions.

“Meditation is a great stress reliever. I have become a calmer and more patient person in a way. I feel like I have become more centered; it helps me focus on the present, and the now. It improves my imagination and creativity too,” Guttman said.

Physical Education teacher Kim Thompson uses meditation in her classes, especially when she is talking about mental health.

“Guided imagery can help us understand our emotions a little better, allow us to become aware of how or why we feel the way we do, or even allow an emotion to surface that we could’ve been holding back unknowingly. It could be something that we’ve been harboring and didn’t even know,” Ms.Thompson said.