Besides relying on the spoken word benefits, MRFI and MRI have scientifically shown how meditation positively changes the brain.
Meditation has been proven to enlarge the cortical thickness of the hippocampus and thus improve the practitioner’s memory and cognitive ability.
Meditation benefits for the brain are both psychological and neurological.
To improve your mental health, meditation researchers and experts recommend practicing meditation every day.
For the past ten years or so, researchers from different institutions of learning like the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance have published reliable reports showing meditation effects on the brain.
Again, individual psychological experts like Gaëlle Desbordes and Ellen Langer have also been working hard to study the effects of meditation on brain structure.
Before highlighting the positive effects of meditation on the brain and body, let’s look at the definition of “meditation”.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a practice or set of practices whose aim is to have a stable state of mental clarity, focus and calmness.
This practice is believed to have originated in India and thereafter adopted by its neighbouring states.
Meditation involves the use of different techniques such as mindfulness, focusing, walking, body-scan and love-kindness.
The most popular types of meditation are spiritual and mindfulness.
While spiritual meditation is targeted at revealing the real self, mindfulness meditation helps the practitioner to enhance self-awareness and take control of the present.
How The Brain Processes Meditation
During meditation, the inner self activates your mind, ego and Chitta (section responsible for memory storage and impressions).
When meditating, three parts of the brain are involved; the Frontal lobe, Parietal lobe and occipital lobe.
The Frontal Lobe is the front part of the brain.
It’s vital for our consciousness, voluntary movement, expressive language and executive functions.
Among the executive functions include planning, execution, initiation, organization and responsiveness.
When meditating, the frontal cortex slows down the brain from processing information normally.
Just like the frontal lobe, the parietal lobe tends to slow during meditation.
This section of the brain processes sensory information.
By processing information about your surroundings, you get to understand times and space.
It’s also responsible for stopping signals from firing.
Lastly, the occipital lobe helps in interpreting information captured by our eyes.
When you close your eyes, any information that would interrupt during meditation is blocked.
How Meditation Changes the Brain: Scientifically Based
Meditation changes our brain structure.
The structural changes influence how the brain responds to different situations and the immediate surroundings.
As the brain changes during meditation, the BioEnergy Switch starts blocking negative energies from flowing into the brain.
The vacuum is filled with positive energy which takes control of the body and brain.
After a series of scientific research on “effects of meditation on the brain”, meditation has been proven to change the structure of the brain.
The changes in brain structure offer many benefits to the brain.
Besides improving mental focus, self-image, attention and sleep, brain changes also strengthen memory, reduces stress, increases compassion and helps manage anxiety.
Now, how does meditation change the brain?
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In brief, brain meditation changes the brain in 5 ways:
- Enlarges the prefrontal cortex
- Thickens the hippocampus
- Shrinks the Amygdala
- Enhances the activity of certain brainwaves
- Increases the brains grey matter
Every change in the brain structure has a specific impact on the brain.
Luckily, all the impacts occasioned by meditation have positive effects.
Let’s look at what happened to the brain when you meditate and its effects.
Meditation enlarges the prefrontal cortex
The prefrontal cortex is the foremost part of the brain that comes before the motor cortex.
This part is responsible for cognitive functions.
Among the important cognitive functions perfected by enlargement of the prefrontal cortex include:
- Focusing attention
- Managing emotional impulses
- Coordinating and adjusting hypothetical issues
- Planning and executing plans
The prefrontal cortex is made of grey matter.
Doing meditation for at least three weeks has been proven to increase the grey matter.
Consequently, an increase in grey matter increases the brain cells thus boosting one’s ability to make rational decisions.
Meditation thickens the hippocampus
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is among the most widely practised therapeutic meditation technique due to its positive impact on the brain.
Research done on 16 individuals after undergoing an 8-week meditation program showed an increase in the grey matter on the left hippocampus.
In summary, the hippocampus is described as a layer densely packed with neurons.
Further analysis on the whole brain proved that meditation increase the posterior cingulate cortex and temporo-parietal junction.
The grey matter is responsible for learning, memory processing, emotional control and self-care.
An increase in the grey matter concentration translates to heightened self-response and improve learning capabilities.
Image courtesy of NCBI
Meditation shrinks the Amygdala
One’s ability to control emotions related to fear is directly linked to Amygdala.
Another group of researchers concluded that Amygdala stimulates memory.
Amygdala is part of the brain that detects threats and stimulates fear-related behaviours.
People with a large amygdala tend to be more anxious than those with a smaller amygdala.
Studies show that consistent mindfulness meditation decreases the grey matter density in the amygdala thus making it shrink.
And as the amygdala shrinks, the cortico-limbic circuits compress.
This leads to fewer fears, less anxious feelings and reduced stress.
Meditation enhances the activity of certain brainwaves
During meditation, brain waves are relaxed and awake.
Engaging in meditation practices has been proven to increase the activity of the alpha waves.
These are the waves responsible for the relaxation of the brain.
On another note, as you meditate, the beta waves slow their activity.
These waves are renowned for active learning and thought.
It’s the same reason meditation is attributed to reducing stress.
This fact was proven true by US researchers in conjunction with Dr Daniela Dentico.
To boost your alpha waves activities, practice the visualization meditation technique i.e. close your eyes take a deep breath and listen to the air as it flows in and out.
Meditation increases the brains grey matter
Grey matter makes 40 per cent of the brain.
This part of the brain covers some of the regions involved in memory, speech, self-control, decision making and muscle control and emotions.
With only eight weeks of meditation, scientists like Sara Lazar have proved that grey matter increases significantly. Some studies have shown practising meditation for 15 – 20 minutes increases the grey matter.
How to Do Brain Meditation Step by Step
Doing brain meditation for 8 weeks continuously will make you feel more relaxed, perform better academically, and improve your self-control and focus.
If you want to start doing brain meditation, here are the steps to follow:
- Step 1: Find a quiet place
After finding an ideal place that’s free from any disruption, sit on your meditation chair or on the floor with the legs straight on the ground and the back straight at 90 degrees.
- Step 2: Set timer and close your eyes
Even though setting a meditation period is good, listening and scanning your body until your body, brain and muscles are relaxed are better.
If you are determined to meditate for 20 minutes, set the timer and while in a comfortable position, close your eyes.
- Step 3: Feel your breath
Now that you are beginning to relax, feel your breath.
Find the inhale and exhale breathes patterns and focus on them as you deepen the breath.
Breathe in through your nose and exhale via the mouth.
Can you feel the chest expand and contract?
- Step 4: Allow thoughts to wander through your mind
Forcing your mind to stop thinking will not let your body relax.
Instead, let the thoughts flow freely and don’t engage them.
If your concentration drifts away, don’t worry.
Return your focus by finding the breath and continue to focus on it.
To enhance your concentration, include a mantra-like:
“I will have a good day, because it’s my choice”
“I create my own path and walk it with joy”
- Step 5: Remain calm, focused and relaxed until your body feels right
Remain relaxed until you feel ready or you’ve attained a stable state of your soul.
Open your eyes slowly and take note of your emotions, surrounding and thoughts.
FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
- What is the best meditation app?
Every meditation app is good.
It’s the incorporated features that determine how good or bad the app is.
However, relying on user reviews and rating, we can undoubtedly say the most used and preferred apps are:
- INSCAPE and Breathe+ – best for breathing
- Meditation Studio and Let’s Meditate – best meditations apps for beginners
- Oak and Simple Habit – best for quick morning meditation
- What happens to the brain when meditating?
When meditating, the brain structure changes.
The brains’ grey matter density in the hippocampus increases and decreases in the amygdala.
The brain also feels more relaxed and calm.
- How long does it take meditation to change the brain?
Research and studies have shown 8 weeks or two months on consistent meditation to be enough to change the brain.
It’s a fact meditation changes the brain and body.
Thickening of the hippocampus, shrinking of the amygdala and enlarging of the frontal cortex are some of the changes.
These brain and body changes come with many benefits.
Besides improving self-awareness, self-esteem, focus and concentration, meditation also reduces stress, improves stress and helps lower blood pressure.