At this point, most people have heard about meditation and that it can be helpful for reducing anxiety, finding more presence, and increasing awareness. It’s one of the most ancient practices known to man, and over the years, science has helped increase our understanding as to why it is effective.
A study by Sarah Lazar and colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital found that regular meditation has been shown to change the brain in a number of ways:
The prefrontal cortex is associated with attention, problem solving and decision making, and the hippocampus is associated with memory and learning. Regular meditation practice can increase the thickness of these regions of the brain, leading to improved cognitive function, memory, and emotional regulation.
The amygdala is associated with fear and anxiety. The understanding that meditation decreases activity in this region of the brain helps us understand why it can be a helpful tool for those wanting to improve their ability to regulate emotions and respond to stress in a healthier way.
This is a network of brain regions that is active when the mind is at rest and not focused on the external world. These changes can result in a variety of effects, including increased creativity, improved concentration, and better decision-making. The changes can also lead to increased empathy and self-awareness, which can lead to stronger relationships and improved mental health. In addition, it is thought that these changes to the default mode network may be responsible for improved self-awareness, enabling those that meditate to be more aware of their thoughts and feelings, which can lead to improved self-regulation.
This gray matter density increase has been seen in many regions of the brain, including areas associated with sensory processing, emotional regulation, and higher order thinking. This suggests that meditation can increase the brain's ability to process information quickly and accurately, and can potentially lead to increased problem solving skills and better learning abilities.
It's important to note that the effects of meditation on the brain can vary depending on the type of meditation being practiced and the individual. Additionally, while meditation can be a helpful tool in reducing the effects of trauma and emotional regulation, it is not a substitute for professional mental health care and should be used in conjunction with other evidence-based treatments.
Ultimately, meditation is an ancient practice that shouldn't need science to explain its benefits. However, it is helpful to understand how the simple act of taking time to notice our thoughts, without judgment, can actually positively alter our brain. Hopefully this article helped you understand what's actually going on in your brain when you meditate, and convinced you to give it a shot!
Until next time, Emma