There have been a number of studies done on meditation to show how excellent it is for overall health and well-being. However, have you heard about how it actually changes your brain? New research has pointed out just how meditation can actually play a role in the way the brain works. Whether this is something you do regularly or you’ve been intrigued by all of the benefits that researchers have discovered, this new advantage makes it all the more appealing and worth taking advantage of.
Interested in learning more?
You can find all you need to know about meditation and its affect on the brain below.
The Science Behind Meditation
Rather than being static, our brains are powerful tools that are designed to change and adapt just as we do. Of course you might see this when you’re able to learn something new, like a language or even how to play a new instrument, but what’s going on behind the scenes? What you can’t see is your brain’s plasticity continuously changing. Even something as simple as thinking positive thoughts or practicing gratitude can influence this plasticity within the brain to change shape in advantageous ways.
As scientists continued to do research on the neuroplasticity of the brain, they naturally began to look at how meditation produced changes. After all, meditation is mainly about relaxation, calm, and positive thoughts. As they researched they found that even just small amounts of meditation produced positive changes within the brain.
How Does Meditating Change Your Brain?
Some of the most noticeable changes include:
1. Strengthening Self-Control Regions of the Brain
Meditation can help individuals recovering from addiction by helping strengthen the self-control regions of the brain. As a result, this disassociates the state of craving an addiction from the act of partaking in it so the behavior can be avoided. One study looked at individuals who smoked and found that those who learned mindfulness from meditation were more likely to quit than those who only went through traditional treatment. However, for those who suffer from any type of addiction at all, this may also prove to be beneficial.
2. Increased Grey Matter and Cortical Thickness
Practicing meditation has been found to increase cortical thickness and grey matter in the anterior cingulate cortex, prefrontal cortex, and hippocampus. Grey matter is important because it’s responsible for hearing, memory, impulse control, speech, emotions, and many other executive functions. This tends to diminish with age, which is why preserving or increasing it is so important. The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC for short) is associated with the ability to monitor attention conflicts. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for helping with solving, emotional regulation, and planning. The hippocampus is responsible for governing memory and learning.
3. Weakened Connections
Being mindful, as learned through meditation, can help weaken the connection between the pre-frontal cortex and amygdala. This is beneficial for you, because it helps make it easier for connections in other areas to be strengthened, including those responsible for attention and concentration. This is perhaps why many studies have found that people who had even just a couple of weeks of meditation training had increased focus and memory.
4. Reduced Amygdala Size
While a reduction in a part of the brain might sound like a bad thing, this is beneficial because the amygdala is responsible for the fearful and anxious emotions. Brain scans have shown that brain cell volume in this area decrease after meditation such as mindfulness practice, helping them deal with anxiety and fear more effectively as a result.
5. Reduced Brain Wandering
Do you notice that your mind often wanders from thought-to-thought and that your overall mood isn’t as happy as you’d like it to be? Many individuals experience this, whether they daydream while at work or they continuously worry about situations in the past or present. Partaking in mindfulness practices such as meditation may help, as they have been shown to reduce the activity in the area of the brain that wanders (which is also called the Default Mode Network). Due to the fact that wandering is associated with unhappiness, a reduction in this can also help enhance well-being and feelings of happiness.
6. Preserved Grey Matter
While meditation can help increase the amount of grey matter within the brain, it can also help preserve it for longer. A study that looked at individuals who had been meditating for over 20 years showed that they had more grey matter volume than individuals who did not meditate. They still had some volume loss when compared to those who were younger, but it was still much less than individuals who did not participate in this activity at all.
7. Reduced Activity in Anxiety Centers of the Brain
For those who suffer from any form of anxiety, meditation can be an incredibly beneficial solution. It has been found to change the parts of the brain that are responsible for anxiety, including social anxiety. As a result this helps to reduce symptoms and help individuals live more comfortable lives.
Clear Advantages of Meditation and Mindfulness Training
With the large number of studies that have been done on meditation and the benefits it offers, it’s easy to see why so many people take advantage of it. While some do this every day to help them feel better, others choose to do it only a couple of times per week as their schedule permits. Some of the biggest benefits that may give you some motivation to try it for yourself include:
- Reduced Anxiety
- Reduced Depression
- Healthier Well-Being
- Improved Attention
- Improved Concentration
- Improved Focus
- Increased Grey Matter
- Improved Memory (both short and long-term)
Which of these benefits gets you the most excited about trying meditation? To make this practice even better, the use of fMRI and EEG have provided physical evidence that it changes the brain. This makes the benefits all the more real, especially for individuals who are looking to harness their brain power and boost their abilities every day. However, it’s important to remember that most changes aren’t seen right away, like they would be if you were to take a medication. Measurable differences can take time and require practice with meditating on a regular basis.