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Benefits of Meditation:
Meditation can forge lasting changes in the brain

For centuries, people have practiced meditation to help reduce stress and produce a tranquil state of mind. Today studies suggest that meditation can also help improve mental disorders such as the desire to self-harm.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Melbourne shows that meditation can result in lasting changes in the brain. The Australian experiment was conducted on the taboo area of self-harm.

As part of the experiment, a young woman who had been grappling with the problem of self-harm since her teens took part in a research-backed course in meditation and relaxation techniques. During this period, her brain was scanned for changes.

The woman in question, Alison Dower of Brisbane meditated daily for a period of eight weeks. Ms. Dower, who is now aged 23, said, "The desire to self-harm is not particularly strong anymore due to all the work I've done. I don't know if I'd call it a cure but I would say if it works for you it is a very potent tool to have.”

She also added that she hadn’t self-harmed in over 12 months.

The initial scans revealed a "rightward bias" in her brain activity, known to be associated with a higher incidence of depression and negative emotion.

Commenting on the changes, Professor Nick Allen, from the university's Department of Psychological Sciences, said the scan following the meditation intervention showed a shift in brain activity "more leftwards... which is a pattern more associated with positive emotions and positive coping".

"This is, in my opinion, one of the most exciting areas of neuroscience," Prof Allen said, "that the brain can change in response to experiences and in response to activity".

The study is particularly relevant considering that up to eight percent of the population in Australia is believed to engage in self-harming behaviour. For some it becomes a routine and finds manifestation in acts such as deliberate cutting or scratching of the arms and legs.

Professor Allen is of the opinion that the disease is more widespread that actually estimated and is occurring even when there are no formal health problems. He felt that the case study with Alison “is extremely encouraging” and is a “critical first step on the path” to find specific treatment approaches.

The study gives a huge boost to alternative medicine practitioners who believe that the mind and body must be in harmony for a person to remain healthy. Since time immemorial people have been practicing meditation irrespective of their culture and religious affiliations not just for spiritual purposes but also for health and wellness. Meditation creates a more conscious relationship between the mind and the body and today research is increasingly focussing on strengthening this relationship to treat disorders and diseases.

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