Many of us are living in highly stressed and tough times. Every day we face problems related to our jobs, our businesses, as well as our personal relationships.
In addition, there are huge challenges in health, politics, and the economy that confronting the world from time to time.
Under these conditions, there is little doubt that many thousands of men, women, and even children suffer from various types of mental issues and emotional challenges.
While conventional medication continues to be the first line of treatment, we should also try and understand the various benefits of meditation.
Hence, we thought it would be a good idea to learn more about the meditation benefits for the brain. It will help many readers to have a new and informative perspective about meditation.
However, before going into the details of the subject, we will get started by understanding the basics of meditation. We believe that it will help our readers to understand things better because they will have a reasonably good idea about meditation in the first place.
What is Meditation?
Put in simple words, meditation is being in a state of mindfulness.
It is about the skill set or training that helps a person to be fully aware of the present and at the same time engage in activities that help the mind and brain to do things that it normally would not do.
Meditation is a skill set and it can be learned by anyone who is ready to put the time and effort required for learning it. It is perhaps equal to exercising a muscle in your body that you may have not worked out before.
Mastering meditation is possible provided you are able to practice it for a reasonably long period of time. While you can do it all by yourself, it would be a good idea to have a trainer or teacher to help you out.
It would be wrong to move ahead with the notion that there is something known as perfect meditation. Even experienced persons often see a lapse of concentration and focus.
You also may end up not following your breath and this important for any type of meditation. It is extremely important to stay focused and ensure that you have the right concentration. All these are small hiccups and it should not deter you.
As you practice more and as you gather more experience you will be able to master meditation like any other skill set.
Now that we have a reasonably good idea about meditation let us try and find some answers to the question as to how does meditation changes the brain. This might look a bit unique and perhaps even unbelievable for many of us.
However, meditation has the power to change quite a few things and it could also help control and even change your brain and make it work the way you want it to work.
Without wasting too much time let us straight get into the various benefits that meditation may offer to the overall functioning and health of the brain.
Read also our article: Warnings about Meditation (Precautions and Negative Side Effects). – Opens in new tab
1. Meditation Can Change Structures in the Brain
There are a few studies that point to the fact that when a person practices meditation, it can perhaps help him or her to change the structures within the brain.
This is not hearsay or based on some careless opinion. This is based on a study that has been published in the Psychiatry Research Journal. It was a team effort of researchers belonging to Harvard University.
They used brain scans to find out how an eight-week training program of mindfulness may have helped to change the structures in the brain. The training program was called MBSR or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
The studies showed that this program resulted in cortical thickening in an area of the brain called hippocampus. This is a part of the brain that helps to control memory and learning and it also has an important role to play as far as emotion regulation is concerned.
However, these are still early days and scientists are still at work to try and understand the volume of increase or decrease of the hippocampus.
However, there is a general belief that the increase could correlate to improvement in emotional regulation. On the other side of the spectrum, decreases could be because of stress, negative emotions, amongst others.
Further, these studies also point out the fact that decreased volume and also decrease in the density of the hippocampus could also lead to many mental health disorders. These could lead to some types of depressions and also a condition known as PTSD or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
2. Meditation Could Also Lead To Stress Regulation
There was a small study done in 2016 and it was conducted on 35 adults who were unemployed at that point in time.
The 35 adults were under considerable stress because of their inability to earn money for them and their families. These 35 people were divided into two groups and they were asked to go in for a three-day intervention.
The first group was taught about a formal program pertaining to mindfulness meditation. The other group was put through a relaxation training program.
Once the intervention was over, the participants of both groups underwent brain scans. It was found that those who took part in mindfulness meditation showed improved activity in areas of the brain that related to the resting state.
They were able to express themselves well. This was not the case with the other group that depended more on relaxation.
A follow-up study was also done after months and the results were even more encouraging. Those who took part in the meditation group also showed a markedly lower level of unhealthy inflammation in the brain.
This condition is usually associated with increased stress levels. Therefore this is perhaps a reasonably conclusive study to prove that quality meditation could have some great benefits for the brain.
Related reading: 8 Health Benefits of Meditation – What the Newest Research Shows
3. It May Also Improve Focus And Concentration
As mentioned above, we are living in world of distractions. It is not easy for most of us to focus on issues of importance. This may happen even on a daily basis.
Studies done by scientists believe that meditation can help overcome the problem related to the lack of concentration and focus.
This is again based on a study that was published during March 2013. The study is available in the journal Psychological Science. It talks about the benefits of meditation and how it could help to bring down the instances of wavering minds.
It also could lead to improved cognitive performance. The researchers concluded that any good two-week meditation course could lead to improved cognitive performance. In fact, it also has been helpful for students who were preparing for competitive exams like the GRE.
These students were able to focus much better and their memory levels and retention capacities also improved quite a bit. They were able to score much better in their competitive GRE exams. This could be attributed to the reduction in distractions and other such thoughts that may have otherwise impaired their focus and concentration.
Apart from the above, there was another study that was published in a prestigious journal. It also had similar results to show.
The study saw researchers comparing brains of experienced meditating persons with those who are new to meditation.
The researchers keenly observed the DMN (Default Mode Network). This is a part of the brain that continues to remain active when a person is not focused on the outside world.
This part of the brain is often responsible for wandering thoughts when a person is sitting without any activity or when he or she is just about to go to sleep.
There were some exciting findings when it came to experienced meditation practicing persons. Their DMN was not as activated as it was in the case of those who were not practicing any kind of meditation.
It meant that they had fewer distractions when compared to those who were new or fresh to meditation.
4. It Could Help The Aging Brain
There are some preliminary research studies to prove that meditation may be quite helpful in protecting the brain against the negative effects of aging.
This has been further corroborated by research that has been published in January 2015 in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
The study goes to prove that people who are regular with meditation have lesser problems as far as age-related inflammation or atrophies is concerned.
It has also been found that meditation appears to help maintain the gray matter of the brain, the tissue that contains neurons and is connected with white matter.
The research was done on 50 expert meditators with a mean practice of close to 20 years and also another group who did not meditate.
Though both groups did show loss of gray brain with age, the loss was lesser for those who meditated regularly.
The Final Word
It is quite obvious that there are enough studies conducted at different levels that go to prove a few things beyond doubt.
Meditation done under the careful guidance of professionals or even by the end-users themselves can have many beneficial effects as far as the functioning of the brain is concerned.
It makes the brain work more efficiently and also brings down inflammation levels. It may also avoid the problems that arise because of brain atrophy caused by stress, tension, aging, and other natural reasons.
Further Reading: Transcendental Meditation – All You Need to Know – Opens in new tab.
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