Can meditation change you?

Growing up, my friends and family were very into yoga and meditation. I was raised being told how healthy and helpful both were for the mind and body. I know yoga is good for the muscles as a form of exercise, but the idea that meditation is healthy for your mind never sat quite right with me. For those of you that don’t know, meditation is the act of concentrating on nothing for long periods of time. Can meditation actually change the makeup of your mind on a bio-chemical level? It seems like such an odd concept as people have been questioning how much we can actually control our minds since the beginning of time. The null hypothesis in this case would be that meditation has no affect on the brain, while the alternative hypothesis is that meditation has some sort of affect on the brain.


Supposedly, the way meditation changes the chemical relationships is your brain is fairly simple.     Without meditation, the medial prefrontal cortex (or the section of the brain responsible for self reflecting/ thinking about yourself i.e. daydreaming, self evaluating) is very closely related to the Insular cortex (part of the brain associated with the parietal lobes, responsible for touch or feeling) and the Amygdala (responsible for strong, intense emotion such as fear). This is a fancy way of saying whenever you feel scared of a bad physical sensation, you likely think there is a problem related to you. Psychologists have found that with meditation, these regions of the brain become less related. This means that when a problem arises, you’re less likely to think it’s related to you and more likely to look at problems objectively without personal motives. I want to speculate the way psychologists found this out.

This idea suggests that meditation trains the mind to have more rational perspective, but are there studies that show concrete evidence of this? I researched and found one study at UCLA observed 3 aspects of the brain (cortical thickness, white matter and gray matter) and found participants who meditated had slowed or even reversed brain-aging effects in comparison with the control group, or people who did not meditate. The way they observed these aspects was not mentioned and in turn, I have to believe this study was correctional. So we don’t know for certain if the meditation was the variable responsible for these effects on the brain.


Another study done at Yale University looked at people who had been meditating for extended periods of time, in this case it was at least 10 years. These people had less activity in brain areas linked with things such as anxiety, autism and schizophrenia. While this was observational, another study done at Northeastern University had one experimental group of participants take part in an eight-week meditation program and the control group not do anything significant to increase compassion. Then, they tested their compassion. They operationally defined this variable of “compassion” by placing a person with crutches who was having difficulty in front of the participant and seeing if they helped. 50% of the meditating participants helped the person with crutches while only 15% of other participants helped. Both these studies were correlational and didn’t account for any confounding variables. The second study (about compassion) was extremely susceptible to confounding variables because the way the variable was operationally defined was not a definite way to measure compassion, so the validity of the test has to be put in question. Other influencing variables could have been how the participant was feeling that day/ what kind of mood they were in, the appearance of the person with crutches, etc. Both these studies showed soft endpoints and lots of room for error.

So, the question remains. Does meditation actually change the makeup of your mind on a biological level? The conclusion has to be maybe.It’s quite difficult to accept anything as true when it’s a correlation between something completely intangible and immeasurable (in the case, meditation) and a hard endpoint. All the studies I found were correlational and I never saw evidence of change on a bio-chemical level. But, these correlations are fairly strong and if the information can be trusted, then we have reason to reject the null hypothesis. It appears something is going on, but like Andrew has said in class, nothing is ever proven, we just have strong evidence that it’s not due to chance!



8 thoughts on “Can meditation change you?

  1. Cassandra N Kearns

    As a person that has severe anxiety, doctors and therapists have both recommended yoga and meditation countless times. I began to practice yoga my junior year of high school, when my anxiety was at its worst. By the summer of that year, my anxiety was somewhat manageable. I felt less of the symptoms that accompanied the severe anxiety, for example nausea and sweating. The question of whether meditation and yoga can change you may just be strictly anecdotal. Like religion and the practice of prayer, people may have a strong belief that the practice affects your everyday living, when in reality there is no concrete evidence whether it does or not.

  2. Rebecca Aronow

    I began practicing yoga and meditating during my senior year of high school. I felt really stressed, and after hearing from many people that yoga would help I decided to give it a try. Once I got over the initial embarrassment of being in weird positions in front of other people, I began to feel a level of peace and calm that I don’t normally feel in everyday life. I found myself leaving yoga class with a clearer mind and an energy coursing through my body that made me feel energized yet relaxed. I also felt more present in the moment, something that I continuously try to attain in life but is hard to reach. So looking at just my experience with yoga and meditation, I would definitely say that it changes you. I looked up some studies to see if there was one that applied to how yoga makes me feel, and I found this study from Yale University, which discusses yoga’s effect on the self-reflection that takes part in the brain, like what you discussed in your second paragraph. This presence and lack of self-analyzation and incessant, unnecessary thoughts is exactly how I felt after a yoga session, and this study shows that, indeed, meditation largely deactivates those areas of the brain that are responsible for those thoughts that distract us from being present. So although we don’t have concrete proof from a large, randomized control study, I do feel confident enough from reading these many studies and from my own yoga experiences that yoga and meditation really do have the power to change your mind state, and I would suggest that everyone partake in those activities to increase their well-being.

  3. Jessy Severino

    Your topic is definitely one that has caught my attention. I know people like meditate and find a lot of peace while doing so but I did not think that meditation can change a person. I found a cool article that talks about a study that a Harvard neuroscientist that speaks on how meditation can actually change the brain. In the stud that was done they found that different parts of the brain were reacting differently after meditation. I think this a topic that would be interesting to see more study’s on because when people are in deep meditation its as if they were in some type of trans. It would be cool to see what kind of effects can meditation have on the long run.

  4. Hannah Gluck

    I found this very interesting to read because I find myself being very scatterbrained all the time which then leads to stress. Everyone says that meditation helps reduce stress so I have tried it many times but have have little success. I first tried by myself in my room and that didn’t seem to do much for me and I quickly forgot about it. Then in high school I took a psych class where we took time away at the end of class everyday to meditate. But I still really struggled. I don’t know if its just me doing it all wrong but I cant seem to clear by mind. So personally mediation hasn’t really done much for me but maybe I need to look into it more because the results fro these studies look promising! Also here is a link to the mediation I did in my high school link if anyone wants to check it out!

  5. Katrina Burka

    Hi, I have had a love and hate relationship with yoga. Sometimes I feel like I am wasting my time and some days, it helps me tremendously. I found the Yale study to be really interesting because how could they measure compassion objectively. Did the participants know they were being watched? Was it it a controlled environment? Maybe third variables existed to make they help or not help the person on crutches. I feel like yoga can never hurt, so why not practice it once in a while. Also, I feel like the U.S adopted yoga as a form of fitness, and many people who practice yoga aren’t actually focused on meditation. Here is a link to 10 ways yoga is beneficial.

  6. Isaac Chandler Orndorff

    It’s always interesting to discuss mediation. As a male, often we are looked down upon for doing things like Yoga and meditation over working out and lifting weights. I too didn’t see the point of it until I worked at a summer camp over the summer, where a good friend made me try it. It’s not like in the movies, where you sit cross-legged and say “Ouuummmmmm” for hours upon hours straight. You clear your mind, you let everything go, and you just relax for a while. This is often associated with prayer, which is why you hear that Christians are more relaxed when they give their worries up to God. There’s an article on this, but it is on a Christian website, so be wary of bias.

  7. Pedro de Mello

    I always find it interesting to find parallels between science and religion. Hindus have believed for millennia that we are all made of an omnipresent essence (“Brahman”, in Sanskrit), and that everything that there is is but a manifestation of this “ocean” of universal essence. Today, scientists believe even atoms are made of incredibly minute “strings”, which when vibrated create matter and energy, akin to the manifestations of Brahman in Hinduism. Today, a new field of study called Contemplative Neuroscience is rising as a combination of western neuroscience and eastern meditation principles. Basically, it aims to prove that “mindfullness”, that is, a serene state of mind, is beneficial to one’s psycho-physiological wellbeing. I would recommend taking a look at it if you are interested in a more scientific approach to the principles of meditation.

  8. vek5025

    A topic that goes along with your research is the fact that some schools are beginning to use meditation as a substitute for detention. In my opinion, this could really help if children use this time to think deeply and reflect on past behavior. Since meditation has been around for a long time, I am surprised that there has not been more research done on it and it’s effects on the brain.

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