Once you become aware of the positive effects of meditation on the brain, you’ll want to start meditating regularly. In fact, meditation is one of the best mental health investments you will ever make. It’s a stress buster that helps dissolve your anxieties, fear and worries with ease. Available and accessible for everyone, it’s a free and inexpensive way to boost brain health.
Guided meditations can be found for free on apps such as “Calm” or YouTube. Some of them have a specific intent, such as meditations to clear your mind so you can focus and be more productive. Or, meditations to help dissipate anxiety, relax your body and mind and help you fall asleep.
Do the demands of daily life bog you down? Do stressful events in your personal life make it hard for you to focus during the day, or hinder your ability to fall asleep at night? Then consider spending a few minutes in daily meditation. Not only will it restore your sense of calm, but will also boost your cognitive function. There’s something else meditation does that is incredibly powerful:
Meditation and Self-Awareness
Many people view meditation as a way to develop concentration. However, meditation is majorly about increasing your self-awareness. Have you ever watched waves at a beach and felt serene? Or, cradled a child in your arms feeling immense love? This is because acts like regulate your nervous system and attune you to the present moment.
This is exactly what meditation does to your brain. You don’t have to visit a beach or hold someone to reduce stress and feel joy. You can simply sit for a few minutes each day and have blissful moments while meditating.
Meditation and the breathing techniques that go with it help you become more regulated and present in the moment, while increasing your own self-awareness. It’s often during meditation sessions that you self-reflect and develop more self-awareness, which in itself is a superpower.
All this is achieved with increased cognitive function and a better brain structure. Let’s discuss how regular meditation practices can change your brain structure and improve your mental health.
Effects of Meditation on the Brain
Meditation is a holistic practice that impacts four areas of the brain: the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, and grey matter. The prefrontal cortex takes care of your decision-making ability and executive functioning. The amygdala controls your emotional responses. The hippocampus caters to memory and learning. The brain’s grey matter is responsible for functions like muscle control and sensory perceptions.
When all of these parts of the brain are working in harmony, your life seems organized. However, if any area falls prey to the challenges of daily life, you can feel disoriented or dysregulated. This is why a practise such as meditation is required. Since meditation affects all areas of your brain, any disharmonized part comes into balance rather quickly. This is especially true when the act of meditation is practised and mastered.
Benefits are cumulative as this powerful tool of meditation brings about radical changes in your life. It changes brain structure, reduces anxiety, improves mental focus, and protects your ageing brain. With consistency, all these neurological benefits of meditation materialize along with relaxation and a bit more inner peace.
Changing the Way Your Brain Works
Do you procrastinate a lot? Or, find yourself unable to focus on tasks that you need to get done? If yes, you might want to start practicing mediation as soon as possible.
Meditation changes the way you respond to distractions. It trains your brain to focus on the present moment, detach from thoughts about the past or future, and keeps you engrossed with what you are trying to do. This way, your neural structure changes, bringing you increased focus and decreased procrastination.
Using modern technology like MRI scans, researchers now have a thorough understanding of what takes place in our brains while we meditate. The major difference is in our brain activity, as it processes information less feverishly.
Notably, there’s a decrease in beta waves and an induction of deeper brainwave states like alpha and theta. These deeper states bring forth our creativity and intuition, which boost our brain’s processing power. This is true for sporadic, mini-meditation sessions as well as longer sittings.
Structural Changes in the Brain
In a study published in Psychiatry Research, researchers found that 8 weeks of regular mindfulness meditation increased participants’ grey matter concentration in the hippocampus. Not only that, but the study also found a decrease in the volume of the amygdala – the part responsible for stress and fear.
Not only does meditation bring about structural modifications, but it also changes how people feel about themselves. While practising, the mind slows down and awareness increases. This reduces the flow of information down to a trickle. When the brain firmly establishes this new level of sensory awareness, fearful stimulus loses power over us. With time, new neural pathways (new structures) form with healthier reactions to these stimuli. In other words, if you struggle with anxiety or impaired focus, regular meditation could potentially reprogram your brain.
For example, when you are emotionally upset, you can observe this pain without getting involved in a story. This leads you to respond to events rather than reacting to them. A new cognitive structure forms with a better way of handling day-to-day life.
Stress Reduction and Regulation
In 2012, a study took a group of human resource managers and split them into three parts. One-third participated in meditation training, one-third in body relaxation, and the last third was left as is. A stressful test was given to all participants before and after an eight-week period. The group that participated in meditation training has lesser stress than the remaining two groups.
In another study published in July 2016 in Biological Psychiatry, 35 adults were under considerable unemployment stress. After forming two groups, researchers taught meditation to one group and a placebo (fake) practice to the other.
In the end, brain scans found that those with meditation training showed more stress reduction, relaxation, and calmness than those with fake training.
Are you an overthinker or sweat the small stuff a bit too much? Then, meditation will help you chill and take life as it comes. When stress and negativity stop hassling you, life becomes effortless.
Protection Against Brain Dystrophy
With the rise in technology and techy gimmicks that do more harm than good, unplugging from your screen brings about a significant improvement in mental fitness.
A study published in Frontiers in Psychology (2015) found that meditation preserves your brain. By conserving the grey matter controlling your information processing power, meditation stalls the cognitive dystrophy that accompanies ageing.
This UCLA study also found that long-term meditators (who’ve been meditating for 20+ years) had better brains cells than non-meditators. It is crucial to note that both groups showed a loss of grey matter with age. However, regular meditators experienced less of a decline than those who didn’t meditate.
A Lifetime of Benefits: So Why Don’t More People Meditate?
Many people, when given the advice, “You should try meditating!” disregard this as very cliche advice. Some people think of meditation as a gimmick, and don’t realize how much it can actually do for them.
Try it out and see for yourself. At first, it may seem impossible to find the time to meditate. You’ll struggle to clear your mind completely while meditating, which is normal. Part of the reason this happens is that while you’re taking the time to meditate, you’re literally thinking about all the other things on your to-do list you should be doing instead. However, in the big picture, meditation helps you tackle your to-do list – and more – much more effectively. It improves brain function. All you need is about ten minutes per day to try this life-enhancing practise, and your brain will thank you for it.
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