Did you know that just sitting and breathing consciously can significantly change your brain? Is true!
Meditation feeds the brain
We have all heard that meditation leads to greater mental clarity, lower levels of stress, and reduced anxiety. But how does meditation benefit the brain? Studies have shown that the practice of mindfulness causes positive physiological changes that make the connection between meditation and the brain even deeper.
In recent decades, meditation has become more conventional. People spend time working with their mind, following their breath, and learning to appreciate the power of the present moment. Meditation groups are appearing everywhere: in schools, communities, senior centers, and beyond. It has become so commonplace that even the business community has joined the movement, as described in a recent Business Insider article entitled “Silicon Valley is obsessed with meditation, and there is new evidence that it changes the brain for the better “.
Research in the field of psychology has confirmed what every meditator knows: meditation is good for body and soul. Science is now able to reinforce the claims by showing how meditation physically affects the extraordinarily complex organ between our ears. Recent scientific evidence confirms that meditation nourishes the parts of the brain that contribute to well-being. In addition, it seems that a common practice deprives the brain of the parts of the brain related to stress and anxiety.
Let’s take a brief look at some of the sciences.
Effects of meditation on the brain
In an interview with the Washington Post, Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar offers an introduction to how meditation affects the brain. It explains how four brain regions of meditators associated with healthy brain function become more substantial, while one of the areas associated with unwanted behavior actually shrinks. Let’s take a look at these areas.
This is the area of the brain that helps us learn. The tools we use for cognitive ability and memory are found here, as well as the emotional regulators associated with self-awareness and empathy. Research confirms that as the cortical thickness of the hippocampus increases in volume through meditation, the density of gray matter increases and all these important functions are nourished.
The posterior cingulate is connected with wandering thoughts and self-relevance, that is, the degree of subjectivity and self-reference when processing information. It seems that the bigger and stronger the posterior cingulate, the less the mind wanders and the more realistic the sense of self can be.
Two of the vital effects that meditation has on the mind are the ability to stay in tune with the present moment without judgment, repentance, or anticipation; and the ability to observe sensations and emotions that arise in the mental stream without necessarily identifying with them. Meditation seems to increase the density of the posterior cingulate.
This is a very busy and important part of the brain where many of the neurotransmitters that help regulate brain activity are produced. Located in the middle of the brainstem, its name, pons, comes from the Latin meaning “bridge”. The bridge is involved in a number of essential functions, such as sleep, facial expressions, sensory input processing, and basic physical functioning. Meditation strengthens the bridge.
The parietal temporal junction (TPJ)
We like to think that we are good people: empathetic, humane and fair. Empathy and compassion are associated with the temporoparietal junction of the brain, or TPJ, as is our sense of perspective. We could say that the posterior cingulate focuses on “I”, while the TPJ illuminates everything else. TPJ becomes more active when we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, for example. A stronger TPJ, combined with other benefits of meditation, such as less stress and awareness of the present moment, can help us be the good people we aspire to be.
There is another area of the brain that is modified through meditation: the amygdala. But it doesn’t get bigger; is reduced. The amygdala, that annoying corner of the brain that produces feelings of anxiety, fear, and general stress, is physically smaller in the brain of expert meditators. For the rest of us, even an intense eight-week course on consciousness-based stress reduction leads to a measurable decrease in amygdala size. The smaller it is, the less apt it is to dictate our emotional responses, especially those of the “fight or flight” genre. No wonder we feel so good when a daily meditation regimen is incorporated into our lives.
If you are interested in learning more about the effects of meditation on the brain, check out our supplementary article What Happens to Your Mind, Brain, and Body During Meditation. Too, Altered Traits: What Science Reveals About How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson will provide you with knowledge and many things to think about.
But meditation will not change your brain better unless you sit down and practice! What are you waiting for, Einstein?
As you read this article, it is clear that you are interested in the practice of meditation and its results: experiencing genuine joy and well-being. You have come to the right place. Mindworks is a non-profit organization with a mission to share the most authentic and proven meditation guide with you and our global community.
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