Did you know that you actually change the structure of your brain when you meditate regularly? This results in better physical and emotional health and well-being
According to recent research, when you meditate, you can grow gray matter in some parts of the brain and shrink it in others. This is known as Neuroplasticity, the idea that your brain changes due to experiences, thoughts and emotions. Growth in certain areas leads to increased capacity for compassion and increased self-awareness, while shrinking in others reduces stress and impulsive decision-making. Meditation can re-route neural pathways from those that lead to obsessing and worrying to those that allow you to focus on what is going on in the present moment. In fact, with time, you can change your default mode of thinking. Some athletes use meditation techniques to increase focus and “get in the zone.” It’s important to note that the research indicates that you are best off with a regular mindfulness meditation routine.
Just as reflecting on physical activity research can motivate me to swim even if it is cold outside, I am encouraged to meditate---- even when I just don’t feel like it ---by remembering the research on the benefits of mindfulness meditation on the brain.
Have I gotten you interested in the research? Read on!
Here is a summary of how mindfulness meditation changes the brain, based on the most recent research. Some of the studies focused on experienced meditators while others studied short term programs (6-8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) or even short daily mindfulness activities.
- It may reduce activity in the amygdala, which then can reduce stress and fear responses.
- It can increase activity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which then can improve attention span and concentration, decision making, planning, abstract thinking, and regulating emotions;
- It may increase activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which can lead to greater emotional stability and less reactivity;
- It may increase activity in the posterior cingulate cortex, which can lead to greater empathy;
- By influencing activity patterns in the cortical midline structure (CMS), mindfulness meditation can change the amount of time we spend in self referential thinking, which then can alleviate depression and anxiety and enhance the ability to stay in the present instead of ruminating and obsessing;
- It may enhance activity in the insula, which can then lead to greater self awareness and empathy toward others;
- It may increase gray matter in the hippocampus which can enhance memory, help can help one to see the big picture and calm stress;
- It can enhance activity in the basil ganglia which then can improve procedural learning; and finally
- It can increase activity in the thalamus, which then can enhance sensory perception and motor coordination.
- It can also reduce normal cortical thinning of brain which can reduce the effects of aging on cognitive function.
Now that you know about the effects of mindfulness meditation on the physical parts of your brain, I'm going to break down the effects of meditation on your physical and emotional health and well being. Be on the lookout for this new information over the next few blog posts :)