How Meditation Can Reshape Our Brains: Sara Lazar at TEDxCambridge 2011

Translator: Aura Raducan
Reviewer: Elisabeth Buffard Good morning. So when I was in graduate school, I was a runner, and a friend and I decided that we’re going to run the Boston Marathon. And so we started training and we overtrained, and I developed knee and back problems. So I went to see a physical therapist, and they told me that I had to stop running and instead I should just stretch. As I was leaving the physical therapist office, I saw an ad for a vigorous yoga class that promised not only to promote flexibility, but also to promote strength and cardiorespiratory fitness. So I thought, oh, well, this is a great way that I can stretch, but also remain in shape, and maybe I could even still run the Boston Marathon. So I went to the yoga class and I really enjoyed it, except when the teacher would make all sorts of claims, you know, all sorts of medical claims, but also claims about, oh, yes, it will help you… You’ll increase your compassion and open your heart and I was just like… I remember my eyes would roll and… I think, yeah, yeah, yeah, I am here to stretch. (Laughter) But what was interesting was that after a couple of weeks I started noticing some of these changes, I started noticing that I was calmer and I was better able to handle difficult situations, and indeed, I was feeling more compassionate and open-hearted towards other people, and I was better able to see things from other people’s point of view. And, you know, I was like, hm, how could this be, how could this be? And, I thought, well maybe, you know, it’s just a placebo response, right? She told me I will feel this, so maybe that’s why I was feeling it. So I decided to do a literature search to see if there’s any research on this. And low and behold, there was quite a bit showing both yoga and meditation are extremely effective for decreasing stress they’re also very good for reducing symptoms associated with numerous diseases including depression, anxiety, pain, and insomnia. And there’s a couple of very good studies demonstrating it can actually improve your ability to pay attention, and most interestingly, I thought virtually every study has shown that people are just happier. They report they’re more satisfied with their life, and they have a higher quality of life. And so, this was interesting to me. And so I decided to switch and start doing this sort of research. So as a neuroscientist, you know, how could this be happening? How can something as silly as a yoga posture or sitting and watching your breath. How can that lead to all these sorts of different types of changes? So, what we know is that whenever you engage in a behavior over and over again, that this can lead to changes in your brain. And this is what’s referred to as neuroplasticity. And what this just means is that your brain is plastic and that the neurons can change how they talk to each other with experience. And so, there’s a couple of studies demonstrating that you can actually detect this, using machines like the MRI machine. The first study was with juggling. They took people who had never ever juggled before, and they scanned them, and then they taught them how to juggle, and they said, “Keep practicing for three months.” And they brought them back after three months, and they scanned them the second time, and they found that they can actually detect with the MRI machine changes in the amount of Grey matter in the brain of these people in areas that are important for detecting visual motion. So, I thought, OK, three months, you know… Can meditation change brain structure too? Something as simple as, you know, as juggling. What about meditation? So the first study we did, we recruited a bunch of people from the Boston area, and these were not monks or meditation teachers, they’re just average Joes who on average practice meditation about 30-40 minutes a day, and we put them in a scanner, and we compared them to a group of people who were demographically matched, but who don’t meditate. And what we found is this: That there were indeed several regions of the brain that had more Grey matter in the meditators compared to the controls. One of the regions I’m going to point out to you is here in the front of the brain, it’s the area that’s important for working memory and executive decision making and what was interesting about it was when we actually plotted the data versus their ages. So here in the red square, that’s the controls. And this is something you see actually, it’s been well documented that as we get older, not just there, but across most of our cortex, it actually shrinks as we get older. And this is part of the reason why as we get older, it’s harder to figure things out and to remember things. And what was interesting was that in this one region, the 50 year old meditators had the same amount of cortex as the 25 year olds, suggesting that meditation practice may actually slow down or prevent the natural age-related decline in cortical structure. So now, the critics, and there were many critics, said, well, you know, meditators, they’re weird. Maybe they were just like that before they started practicing, right? A lot of them were vegetarian, so maybe it had something to do with their diet, or something else with their lifestyle, you know. Couldn’t possible be the meditation, it’s something else, right? And to be fair, you know, that could be true. This first study could not address that. So we did a second study. In this study, what we did is, we took people who had never meditated before, and we put them in the scanner, and then we put them through an eight-week meditation-based stress reduction program where they were told to meditate every day for 30 to 40 minutes. And then we scanned them again at the end of the eight weeks, and this is what we found. So what you see is that several areas became larger. In this slide we can see the
hippocampus, and in the graph, the controls are in blue and the meditation subjects are in red, and what we see is that the
hippocampus, this is the area that’s important for learning and memory, it’s also important for emotion regulation and it was interesting it was less Grey matter in this region in people who had depression and PTSD. Another region we identified was the temporo-parietal junction which is here above your ear, it’s important for perspective taking and empathy and compassion. And again, these are both functions which people report changing when they start practicing meditation and yoga. Another region we identified was the amygdala. And the amygdala is the fight-or-flight part of your brain. And here we actually found a decrease in gray matter. And what was interesting was that the change in Grey matter was correlated with the change in stress. So the more stress reduction people reported, the smaller the amygdala became. And this was really interesting, because it’s sort of opposite and parallel of what some animal studies have shown. So colleagues using rodents, they took rodents who were just happy, normal rodents, and they had them in their cage, and they measured their amygdala, and then they put them through a ten- day stress regimen. And at the end of the ten days, they measured their amygdala, and this exact same analogous part of the rat brain grew. So we found a decrease with stress, they found an increase with stress. What was interesting was that then they left the animals alone, and three weeks later they went back and tested them again. And three weeks later, that same part of the amygdala was still large, and the animals, even though they were in their original cages where they were happy, were still acting stressed out, so they, you know, they were cowering in the corner, and they just weren’t exploring the space the way they had before. And so, this is the exact opposite of what we saw at the humans, because with the humans nothing has changed with their environment. They still had their stressful jobs, all the difficult problems were still being difficult, and the economy still sucked, but yeah, their amygdala got smaller, and they were reporting less stress. And so, together these really show that the change in the amygdala is not responding to the change in the environment, but rather it’s representing the change in the people’s reaction or relationship to their environment. And then the other thing that the study shows is that, it wasn’t just the people were saying, “Oh, I feel better.” Or that it was a placebo response, or that they’re trying to please us, but there was actually a neurobiological reason why they’re saying they felt less stressed. And so the idea that I’d like to share with all of you today is that meditation can literally change your brain. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “How Meditation Can Reshape Our Brains: Sara Lazar at TEDxCambridge 2011”

  1. A major flaw in meditation research, and Lazar's work is an exemplar of this, is that it does not address the affective component of meditative states, which clearly implicate relaxation and states of alert arousal and the perceptual events which elicit them. Meditation research generally relies upon comparative self-reports of meditators and non-meditators, or fmri (functional magnetic resonance imaging) or brain scans that measure cerebral blood flow. However, neither can isolate the neuro-muscular and neuro-chemical activity (e.g. activity of dopamine and opioid systems in the brain) that correlate with subjective affective states, or how neuro-muscular activity is a function of cortical activity as mapped to experience or learning. Because these research methods and tools cannot determine the etiology or source of the positive affect associated with meditation, it is no surprise that meditation remains without an adequate explanation.

  2. the meaning of vipassana and breath meditation is far deeper and metaphysical. if done without proper understanding, is incomplete.

  3. What Mindfulness Research Neglects- and why Lazar is wrong

    Mindfulness is defined as non-judgmental or choice-less awareness. Choices in turn may be divided into non-perseverative choices (what to have for breakfast, what route to take to go home, or choices with no dilemmas) and perseverative choices (worries, distractions, and rumination, or mental dilemmas wherein every alternative is bad). All meditative procedures, including mindfulness, avoid both.

    The consistent avoidance of perseverative choice alone represents resting protocols, wherein the neuro-muscular activity is sharply reduced. In other words, when we want to be relaxed we isolate ourselves from distractive and worrisome events and thoughts. These states in turn correlate with increased levels of endogenous opioids or ‘endorphins’ in the brain. The benefits of this are manifest, as the sustained increase of endogenous opioids down regulates opioid receptors, and thus inhibits the salience or reward value of other substances (food, alcohol, drugs) that otherwise increase opioid levels, and therefore reduces cravings, as well as mitigating our sensitivity to pain. Profound relaxation also inhibits muscular tension and its concomitant discomfort. In this way, relaxation causes pleasure, enhances self-control, counteracts and inhibits stress, reduces pain, and provides for a feeling of satisfaction and equanimity that is the hallmark of the so-called meditative state.

    It may be deduced therefore that meditative states are primarily resting states, and that meditative procedures over-prescribe the cognitive operations that may be altered to provide its salutary benefits (that is, you just need to avoid perseverative choices, not all choices), and that meditation as a concept must be redefined.

    Finally, the objective measurement of neuro-muscular activity and its neuro-chemical correlates (long established in the academic literature on resting states) is in general ignored by the academic literature on mindfulness, which is primarily based upon self-reports and neurological measures (fMRI) that cannot account for these facts. The problem with mindfulness research is therefore not theoretical, but empirical, and until it clearly accounts for all relevant observables for brain and body, the concept will never be fully explained.

    More of this argument, including references, below including a link to the first study (published last year) that has discovered the presence of opioid activity due to mindfulness practice, as well as the 1988 Holmes paper which provided the most extensive argument to date that meditation was rest.

  4. Dr. Sara Lazar, I have applied in the schools here in Brazil, the meditation in children from 4 to 12 years. Start with a mentalization and driving and then let flow through a soundtrack in 432 hz instrumental. All actions last a maximum of 30 minutes, the results are immediate, some days we already have results in learning and psychological and behavioral disorders in children and adolescents and also consciential about otherness and other factors of sociability outside the school environment, what do you think?

  5. I firmly believe that meditation and pranayama can change your brain, your thoughts and ultimately, your life. So many fantastic benefits to breath work!

  6. Note to the critics of Sara Lazar's delivery: not necessarily from nervousness; when one is sharing thoughts, brain is working, the speech has to try to keep up with the flow of thoughts. When meditating, brain work slows, no need to communicate verbally.

  7. Having been a long term meditator(26 years this Labor Day Weekend), I would count myself among the first to extol benefits from it. However, I do think it's a stretch to then claim there are noticeable changes in the brain which will be associated with resulting positive behavior free of conditioned habits of thought. I'd had stage fright ever since starting acting classes some 29 years ago and though I've made great strides with it but I would be disingenuous to claim I'm 100% cured of it(it even returned in a play I was in about a year and half ago). Same thing with panic attacks and agoraphobia. Starting having this some 45 years ago and again I would be less than honest to claim meditation has cured me of it(actually, I stumbled upon an effective treatment that intentionally amplifies the panic to the point where the mind realizes the folly of it and can quickly stop one from staying in the agitated state). So these experiences tell me that the way in which we're hard wired means there's simply a limit to what meditation can do. It is clearly no panacea. And I think the brain itself is too complicated for meditation as an Rx to be expected to create the kinds of change to end certain painful states of mind that persist no matter what.

  8. I meditate several times a week for 30 mins. I've stopped taking SSRI's. The video is interesting. I may increase to daily. Thx.

  9. Very impressive! The sophomores who are mocking her nervousness seem to forget that not everybody is comfortable on the stage, addressing people. She is herself. Let us respect that. More importantly, she communicates her point.

  10. Excellent Video clip! Forgive me for the intrusion, I am interested in your initial thoughts. Have you heard about – Marnaavid Unexplainable Intervention (probably on Google)? It is a great exclusive guide for learning how to hack your flow state minus the headache. Ive heard some awesome things about it and my friend at last got astronomical results with it.

  11. I have a real problem. I am having hallcinations, real hallcinations, and I want them to go away. These are not visions from the Church Synagogues or mosque. I feel something trying to control me. And I don't like this control. I want this controller to stop. People can be so cruel, I want them to stop. They are trying to control me and I want them to stop.

  12. You can also have some meditation books around like Practical meditation and The way and goal of Rajyoga from 'omshantistore'.

  13. Scientist(or former scientist) Gary Weber does an extremely thorough job of covering the same topic. His videos are available on You Tube as well.

  14. Yoga is an ancient Indian science which has much deeper impact than decreasing stress. Yoga is capabale of making you aware of your inner self.

  15. Her graphs do not seem to support her claims. All effects are borderline significant at the best. Standard test – retest would be very interesting to see.

  16. I've tried to meditate, I cant do it I just don't have the knack ive given up on trying to meditate so I wont try in future!

  17. please try to speak more slowly. – it would be interesting for people who are not speakers, but can understand those who speak calmly- thank you

  18. Well. I seem uncapable to meditate. But I have seen many occasions really wild stuff. There's something out there. And it has so many things going on in there and the possibilities are like endless when you start to research it. Ghosts, premonisions, music, speaking voices, guidance, your soul, ufos/other worldline peoples, Sun-God, past lifes, future lifes, alternating lives, the ride is endless…

  19. Since the other world is more like an imagination where particles take form and reform, nothing really is real. My life seems to be limited more to the inner experience and how it correlates to the outer. When you go through what Jung said throught the subconsciousness, you metamorphose the outer world to be like your inner world, something to seek the balance and equilibrium in it. In other words. Stop thinking. Act more on emotions. Break fears. Imagine better.

  20. Transcendental Meditation transforms the brain in a remarkable way! Check out the David Lynch Foundation site…

  21. la meditación en realidad puede cambiar el tamaño de las regiones clave de nuestro cerebro, mejorando nuestra memoria y haciéndonos más simpáticos, compasivos y resistentes bajo estrés.

    Meditation can actually change the size of the key regions of our brain, improving our memory and making us more empathetic, compassionate and resilient under stress

  22. parece estaño que tan solo con yoga nuestro cerebro pueda tener un criterio distinto a una persona que medita y es que los estudios lo han comprobado que esto puede suceder a el control de nuestras emociones y de no tan fácil olvidar las cosas que han pasado por el transcurso del tiempo como igual la meditación da una personalidad distinta

  23. They (TED talks) don't give people any time to finish the TED talks. They pressure the speakers with ridiculous time restraints. Keep that in mind you judgemental trolls.

  24. A lo que yo comprendi en este video es que la principal fuente de nuestra mente es el estres la cual nos hace que nuestra mente no se concentre a lo que es por que nos brinca de uno a otro pensamiento asi como la mente chango por lo tanto es bueno buscar la forma de mantener el cerebro ocupado para asi poder tener mayor concentracion pero tambien se logra atravez de meditacion lo cual ayuda a relajarte,tranquilizarte y sentirte mejor

  25. Eh estado meditando hace poco después de esta charla estoy deambulando y obtuve una postura buena y exacta de 5.minutos por hora para comenzar la.mediación diferente de lo que siento y así tener un.mejor día

  26. Una chica Universitaria que quería correr un maratón pero por problemas de salud no pudo porque le dolía la rodilla la espalda entonces ella decidió ir a una yoga Y ésta le daba información de tranquilizar y ella estaba más tranquila para manejar situaciones difíciles y de hecho se sentía compasiva que solamente era su mente lo que la hacía que eso sintiera decidió Investigar acerca de la yoga y de la meditación y notó que había mucha información y muy efectiva para reducir el estrés gracias a la yoga y la meditación y es muy buena para reducir síntomas asociados con numerosas enfermedades como depresión insomnio ansiedad Dolor y esto demuestra que las personas que lo hacen en su vida tienen una calidad de vida más alta.
    Isabel Soto Bentura
    3-3 vesp.

  27. Me parece muy interesante nos habla de su vida y lo que a nosotros nos a pasado que ya no emos podido hacer lo que hacíamos antes por falta de tiempo o por algo que no lo permite.

  28. La mente del ser humano es tan compleja que este video me a hecho comprender un poco acerca de ella y de la evolucion que hemos tenido, ya que te enseña varios conceptos la mente como los efectos y como omite aspectos de la realidad… Me explica acerca de muchos muchos desordenes o efectos de la mente que nos pasan diaramente, tambien de las reacciones de algunos seres vivos… ya que sus mentes son muy diferentes a la de nosotros.

  29. A veces las tecnicas de relajación sirven de mucho, ya que te ayudan a desestresar y pensar buen antes de un examen o actividad.💜

  30. El vídeo nos habla sobre como hay algunas cosas tan simples que nos pueden ayudar a relajarnos por ejemplo la yoga como la doctora dice que nos ayuda a la depresión al dolor y al insomnio también a la migraña que podría decirse nos da un punto de vista que las cosas tan simples pueden ayudarnos a controlar Esa esa pequeña parte que a lo mejor se nos hace muy difícil superar también nos ayuda nos hablamos bien de cómo hay afirmaciones que no son reales también en algunas partes de nuestra vida que las dicen pero no son reales.

  31. Te invita: Sara Lazar
    ¨Lo importante del yoga y la meditación, que son efectivas para reducir el estrés, demasiado interesante. También son muy buenas para reducir síntomas asociadas con numerosas enfermedades. Como: Depresión, ansiedad, dolor e insomnio¨.
    ¨La Meditación: Mejora la habilidad de prestar atención y ofrecer felicidad o sea que ayuda a ser más feliz. Esto puede conducir a cambios en el cerebro: la neuroplasticidad. Que el cerebro es plástico y que la experiencia puede cambiar neuronas se comunican entre sí¨.
    Es importante, tomar un respiro y si, meditar, tranquilizarte, tener un cerebro en movimiento y relajación para así no tener malas consecuencias o dañar con estrés o con enfermedades.
    En la vida si se debe trabajar y sobre todo trabajar, el cerebro trabaja pero también debemos tener un descanso y no sobre trabajarlo.

  32. A veces las técnicas de relajación sirven de mucho ya que te ayuda a desestresar y pensar mas antes de un examen

  33. Habla de lo importante que es hacer ejercicios como yoga, ya que te ayuda a cosas superficiales, pero mas mentales, y si en algo de tu mente te ayuda, todo se ve reflejado en lo exterior, es impresionante como ayuda a personaras que tienen enfermedades, y pienso que deberíamos practicarlo,ya que es muy bueno.
    Angeles Denisse Guzman Cruz. 3-3

  34. Que él tener una vida saludable es mejor, te hace ver cosas que ni sabias que existían en ti, aumenta la felicidad y las clases de yoga te sirven para ver las buenas cualidades que tienes, Jaja yo entendi eso.💕

  35. Es increble ver como gracias a la meditación del Yoga nos ayuda mucho ya que nos ayuda a relajar tanto nuestros nervios como el cerebro y eso nos pude ser de mucha ayuda en nuestra vida cotidiana y los exámenes.

  36. El yoga, siempre a tenido grandes ventajas, por que nos ayuda a relajarnos y mediante eso las cosas que tenemos que hacer nos resultan mas faciles. 👍
    Fernanda Garcia.

  37. La meditación es buena para la concentración del cerebro eso hace que nuetro cerebro funcione mejor a la hora poner en practica de la memoria Luis Francisco Topete Cruz.

  38. Con las diferentes clases de yoda y una salud buena todo puede ser bueno, encuentras ese momento de felicidad de satisfaccion por que nos sentimos bien con nosotros mismos

  39. Regions of the brain with more activity. Meditation may slow down mental entropy. It seems that constant activity is necessary to maintain viability in any material endeavor. Lifting weight can builds muscles, cardio exercises improve cardiovascular health and endurance and meditation keeps active and helps maintain coherent brain functioning. In my observation all this is necessary within our social structure outside of any social value minimal activity is required just enough to survive and procreate. I also doubt the need for self sustained coherence outside of a value system.
    In simple terms maintaining our society and it's status quo requires tremendous activity both physically and mentally however, we are overextending what our mechanisms is designed to do (survival/procreate) I hope that meditation somehow can sustain focus energy towards the frontal cortext without dissipating it unnecessarily allowing me to have more control and crushing it in society.😁

  40. i dont worry her style of exprression , , she may not be too good in expressing english, her essence of talk is to make understand how meditation is helpful for happy life. take the fruit of her talk and discard the waste skin

  41. Awesome speech 🙌 But just how someone else behind my comment stated, start it now!
    Stop watching more videos about the benefits of meditation and just test it for yourself. The busier your life is, the more you need it 😊

  42. This was so interesting and it really confirms more scientifically some of what I have thought for many years, just based on personal experience and what I've observed in others. It makes sense really. I enjoyed the video and to anyone that criticized her delivery, I thought she spoke really well. I doubt that she's a professional speaker and she seemed to just be enthused and excited about sharing this very interesting information.
    ( If she did have some stage fright — big deal. Even professional speakers and entertainers can experience stage fright — and even after many years. ) To the speaker, if you read this, thank you for sharing your time and your knowledge.

  43. Ela fala MUITO rápido ( so fast ). Sou Brasileira, entendo a língua inglesa, mas não consegui acompanhar essa senhora que me pareceu muito aflita, ansiosa, apressada. Sorry…

  44. White people needed a friggin mri scanner to make them believe in meditation. While asians just knew meditation changed your brain for the better for a millenia. I mean its kind of obvious. You are what you think; if you think positive, so shall you be; if you think negative, you will be miserable and stressed; if you meditate, you will be objectively immersed in the present. Just calmy going with the flow of the wind with not a worry or care

  45. She was nervous (who wouldn't be). But did what she set out to do in a clear, convincing, and intelligent manner. This is a contribution to your well being. Take it to heart and appreciate it.

  46. This is excellent! I have been learning so much about the subject of neuroplasticity from Dr. Caroline Leaf and Dr. Bruce Lipton. "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind," "As a man thinks so is he," like the bible says! 🙂 The answers truly are there if you look for them. This really gives so much HOPE to people who have lived out wrong thinking and want to reprogram their minds. I am so thankful to be learning all of this for my own life.

  47. People in the comments need meditation in their lives. They want flashing images and rising excited voice and perhaps even added explosion effects to get them engaged.

  48. Meditation has truly changed my life. It blows my mind that more people don't know about it/try it! Whenever someone opens up to me and tells me they're going through a hard time, I tell them to meditate. I encourage you all to do the same!

  49. To everyone interested in taking a meditation practice, or deepening an already existent one, I recommend you check "The mind illuminated – Culadasa" on Amazon, this is gold

  50. Very interest. I have been meditating for more than 25 years and I can identify with some of the changes she mentioned.

  51. Danke für deine Informationen 😊
    Hast du schon den Film Wunder der Lebenskraft oder Heal gesehen?
    kann ich wirklich empfehlen 💟

  52. Meditation takes time and patience, but everyone can do it! Don't feel alone or frustrated, we were all in that same place.

  53. You are beautiful and as good as the presentation was too. I do meditation and may be i could see the beauty of her effort😊😊😊

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