3 Benefits of Meditation For Your Brain.

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3 Benefits of Meditation For Your Brain

Mindfulness Part II

Earlier this season, I wrote a blog post about Mindfulness and how to begin developing a mindfulness practice that did not require mediation.

Click here to read Mindfulness Part I and brush up on the conversation.

In this blog post we are actually going to talk about 3 physiological benefits to practicing mediation that support your mindfulness practice and overall health and wellbeing.

But first!

How to Practice Mediation.

There are several ways to practice meditation. Usually all forms start with finding a place to sit and be. It might be in a quiet room or on a busy subway (not recommended for beginners). Just saying.

  • Once you are sitting, close your eyes and begin to focus your attention.
  • You can focus a repeating sound, word or phrase (called a mantra).
  • You can focus on the inhalation and exhalation of your breath.

You can use your imagination and focus on guided visualizations as you meditate. Popular visualizations include clearing chakra energy centers and grounding.

I personally start my day with two different types of meditation. I start off with a 10 minute timed meditation in silence with tibetan bells at internals, then I plug into a voice guided meditation that I follow with my imagination.

Whichever technique works best for you, here are some general health benefits that will kick in with a regular practice. These just name a few.

  • Stress reduction.
  • Improved sleep quality.
  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Improved Memory.

 

Brain Science.

 Scientists have been studying the effects of meditation since the 1970’s.

Thanks to neuroplasticity -- which simply means that our brain is never in a fixed state, but changes, and reforms based on external environmental factors-- studies show that meditation can begin to change the structure of the brain in as little as 8 weeks.

Here are 3 areas of the brain that are beneficially impacted by meditation. (I should also note that not a single study found a negative impact from meditation).

Prefrontal Cortex:

The prefrontal cortex is an area of the brain located closest to your forehead.  It is associated with learning, complex problem solving, short term memory, and regulating emotions, to name a few.

Meditation is found to increase grey matter density in this area of the brain.

Why is this good?

Increased grey matter density means increased connectivity between cells. Consider mediation as doing bicep curls for this area of the brain and strengthening each of the functions it is responsible for. This is a big win social-emotional intelligence building!


Insula:

The Insula is the area of the brain that integrates emotion with physical sensation (think how good you feel when you bite into your favorite food). It also processes social emotions, such as EMPATHY and LOVE. The Insula is also thought to play a central role in our capacity for self awareness.

How important is the insula? A reduced or damaged insula could be responsible for apathy, loss of libido, and that inability to tell between fresh or rotten food. (Think about the inability of your brain to process what your taste buds are telling you about the food you just put into your mouth!).

Just like the Prefrontal Cortex, meditation has been found to increase the grey matter in Insula as well. My sushi loving self is very happy about this.

In all seriousness though, I can’t imagine two imperative abilities such as empathy and love that are central to building global peace and harmonization with the world around us. If we feel apathy -- we lose our ability to relate -- to others, even to ourselves. No bueno.

Amygdala:

The Amygdala is most associated with emotional reaction, anxiety and fear. In other words, it activates our fight or flight mode.

When exposed to prolonged toxic stress (Think neighborhoods, schools, or homes where violence is prevalent) the Amygdala increases in grey matter density.

Meditation has been found to have the opposite effect on the Amygdala. After meditation, the amygdala is shown to drop in grey matter density and the connection between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex is weakened.

In other words, meditation supports the brain to become less emotionally reactive and more is thoughtful in response to people and the environment around us.

 

To sum it up,

Meditation supports our brain’s ability to process and regulate emotion better, relate to others better, and it reduces instinctual primal reactivity (fear, flight or fight).

As scientific research builds a legacy of case studies around meditation in support of health and wellbeing, I think it is important to remember that meditation was first and foremost introduced as a spiritual practice thousands of years ago. Therefore, rounding out it’s ability to truly benefit the body, mind and spirit concurrently.

“Prayer is talking to the universe. Meditation is listening to it.” -Unknown

Now, I'd love to hear from you: 

  1. If you are a meditation practitioner, what is your favorite form of meditation?
  2. How has meditation impacted your life?  

Lastly, if you feel this blog post has helped you, or could benefit someone you love, please feel free to share this post with friends and family.

Thank you for taking the time to journey with me today!

From my heart-center to yours,

Noemi