Meditation is a powerful tool when it comes to improving your mood and your health. However, did you know that its effects stem from actual changes to the brain?
Science has shown that meditation actually changes the brain, offering a wide array of benefits these changes bring.
Does meditation rewire your brain? Meditation enhances the brain’s ability to reorganize brain function, especially in the prefrontal cortex, the seat of meta-awareness, which is the fundamental aspect of mindfulness and self-awareness allows you to understand other people, how they perceive you, your attitude and your responses to them at the moment.
Research in 2017 from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive & Brain Sciences indicates that, when it comes to meditation training, we can actually track concrete changes in the structure of the brain.
The study’s subjects were given three months of different kinds of mental “training,” and had their brains examined regularly. At the end of the 12-week period, the brains of the mindfulness-trained people showed changes in areas related to attention and “executive functioning.” or behaviors around self-control and organization.
Relaxation and Meditation Work in Favor of Your Brain
Many people search for sophisticated methods to make their brain function better. Yet, what they do not know is that they can increase their intelligence by simply reducing the amount of stress with which their brain has to cope with day in and day out.
The amount of stress handled each and every day by the human brain, significantly affects the way this organ functions, thus leading to memory and focus problems.
This is why relaxation and meditation can work wonders for your brain. Not only meditation capable of totally freeing your mind of current problems, but it can also improve your intelligence, by challenging your brain to destroy the previously imposed boundaries and reach new mental potential.
It may seem hard to believe, but the benefits of having a relaxed mind are numerous and significantly increasing the IQ is only one of them. In addition, people who relax after a hard day of work have fewer chances of suffering from heart attacks and mental conditions, and the entire body benefits from the positive mood achieved once all the stress is removed.
Meditation is one of the techniques in which people can free themselves from their problems and explore states of mind that have been unknown to them. There are multiple ways in which one can reach the meditation state and each of the procedures is grounded in years of experience, research, and tradition.
Asian cultures have been practicing meditation for thousands of years. They use this procedure for freeing one’s mind, but also for treating diseases that have has stress as the main cause.
Thus, the road to becoming a genius must start with having your mind fully relaxed. Practice meditation at least a few minutes every day and you will notice remarkable improvements in your memory and increased capacity for analyzing and solving problems.
How Meditation Changes The Brain To Elevate Your Wellbeing
Slows Loss Of Brain Mass In Aging
Meditation is kind of like a form of mental training for your brain, as the process of clearing your mind and focusing on a single concept activates and engages many different regions. People that meditate consistently for many years are effectively exercising the brain, just like the other muscles in the body.
Studies have found that this “exercise” over a period of several decades led the practitioners to slow the loss of grey matter density, compared to people who did not meditate.
Decreases Worry And Can Boost Moods
A study by researchers at Yale University found that consistent meditation—which involves introspection and honestly evaluating yourself and your actions–decreased activity in the Default Mode Network of the brain, which is the area responsible for your mind wandering.
This area is also associated with worrying and focusing on your past and future, so by decreasing activity in this area meditation allows you to focus more on the present and achieve a greater level of overall happiness.
Thickens The Hippocampus
Meditation can also thicken the cortical folds in the hippocampus, which is the area responsible for your ability to learn and remember things. The thickening that takes place allows the brain to better perform these actions, which leads to an increase in your memory and mental retention.
Decreased Volume In The Amygdala
The amygdala is the area that controls fear and anxiety, releasing a hormone called cortisol that affects the way your body acts during times of stress. Meditation helps you to let go of these negative feelings by addressing the current situations that trigger them, which leads to less activity in the area and thus a decrease in volume and size.
Reduces Stress Hormones
With a smaller and less active amygdala, the brain is less prone to releasing the harmful hormones in response to stressful situations. One Harvard study tracked the size of the amygdala with participants practicing meditation for eight weeks and found that as the volume of the area decreased, so did reports of feeling stressed.
Lowers Anxiety Reaction
Similarly, meditation helps to weaken the part of the brain that leads to feeling anxious. The focus on introspection and self-awareness through meditation helps you to overcome the initial inclination to feel uneasy about different areas of your life, which enables other areas of your brain to take over and trigger more confident actions and positive feelings.
Reduces Feelings Of Depression
One study from researchers at Johns Hopkins tracked the effects of meditation on patients suffering from depression, comparing it to the effectiveness of taking antidepressant medication. The results found that meditation was just as effective as medicine, likely due to the fact that meditation helps to break the links between the rational part of the brain and the amygdala. Meditation also trains the brain to stand up to negative thoughts and fears, rather than relent and indulge in worrying about the past or future.
The Default Mode Network of the brain is also responsible for the mind wandering to different thoughts and topics, such as with daydreaming. It’s also tied into your ability to focus on a single subject, in that it can lead to you getting distracted while trying to think.
Meditation helps to decrease the activity in this area of the brain, and thus trains you to concentrate on the tasks in front of you rather than letting your consciousness shift to something else.
Alters The Lateral Prefrontal Cortex
The lateral prefrontal cortex is one of the parts of the brain that regulates your emotions, and that deals with your emotional responses to different situations. Meditation engages this area of the brain and increases the thickness of its folds, which allows you to better separate your emotional responses and learning habits from the rational part of your brain so that you can better assess the correct action in emotional situations.
Better Handle Stressful Situations
A stronger lateral prefrontal cortex, as well as other changes to the brain as a result of meditation, helps you react more quickly and effectively during stressful situations.
Meditation causes you to think about more than just yourself, which trains your brain to engage the logical analysis areas more. Meditation can help you see the world beyond yourself and your needs to a world that needs what you have to offer that is uniquely you.
This means that when something stressful happens, such as entering into a verbal conflict or witnessing something frightening, you can separate your emotions from logic and identify how you should react based on the situation as a whole.
Fights Social Anxiety
These changes can also help to decrease the effects of social anxiety, which is when the parts of the brain that controls logic and worrying become overactive during social interactions. Meditation creates a brain that is better suited to facing uncomfortable situations and more capable of fighting the fear that comes with activities such as public speaking or meeting large groups of people.
Trains The Ventromedial Medial Prefrontal Cortex
This part of the prefrontal cortex deals with your ability to draw connections between yourself and others, which can translate into a tendency to take things too personally. Meditation changes the way this region functions, allowing you to separate your personal feelings from situations and remain more objective.
Better Reaction To Negativity
Another way meditation affects the ventromedial medial prefrontal cortex is by changing the way it processes negative information. Instead of logging this as an attack or unnecessary criticism, meditation allows you to focus on what you can learn from negative actions and let go of any lasting ill effects on your mood or mental wellbeing.
Meditation also alters the way the brain deals with addiction by separating the craving for something—such as food or alcohol—from the act of indulging the craving. The brain no longer links the two tougher, thus reducing the instances of relapses.
Meditation also helps you pay attention and ignore distractions. This comes from weakening the parts of the brain that lead you to become distracted, as well as strengthening the parts of your brain that control your information retention. Consistently meditating does not mean you never get distracted, but research has found that it does help you to realize that you’ve lost focus and return your attention to the appropriate subject more quickly.
Increases Emotional Stability
When the brain is able to separate emotional reactions from rational reactions, it creates a more stable and consistent mental state. Meditation helps keep the parts of the brain that lead to sadness and worrying in check, while also training the parts of the brain that deal with happiness and letting go of negative feelings.
Trains The Dorsomedial Prefrontal Cortex
Meditation increases grey matter in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex that deals with your ability to handle information in regards to people you perceive as being different from you. Taking in more details and literally thinking more about people that are different allows you to be more empathetic to them, relating to them despite your differences.
Decreases Connection To Fear Centers
Meditation also helps you control the areas of your brain that control fear. It teaches you to see through fear by weakening its connections to the part of the brain the leads to anxiety, which allows you to act despite feelings of fear.
Increases Grey Matter In The Anterior Cingulate Cortex
By improving the size and strength of the anterior cingulate cortex, your brain is better able to handle multiple cognitive functions at once. This allows you to think more quickly and handle situations that would otherwise be cognitively distracting, such as a red flashing warning sign while listening to a warning siren announcement.
There are several areas of the brain that control your anger, most notably the area that deals with your emotional responses. By decreasing the strength of that area, and severing its connections with the part that leads to feeling angry, you can better handle situations that would make you mad.
Meditation also helps you analyze these situations more rationally, also reducing the occurrence of anger.
How Meditation Improves Your Emotional Health
Meditation is defined as ‘the action or practice of meditating.’ Synonyms for meditation include contemplation, thinking, pondering, consideration, reflection, deliberation, and concentration.
Most experts and regular meditators agree that meditation is not an act, but a way of life. According to the Chopra Center, meditation allows one to move beyond the mind’s stress-inducing thoughts and emotional upheaval into a place of clarity, peace, and complete awareness.
While meditation was considered a bit of a hippie practice for many years, health professionals as well as many type-A, career-driven professionals have learned to trust the vast benefits of meditation for emotional and physical health.
A study by Li-Chuan Chu in 2009 evaluated the benefits of mindfulness meditation on a group of graduate students. The control group received no mindfulness meditation training while the remaining group did. Upon post-treatment evaluation, it was determined that the students employing mindfulness meditation methods experienced less perceived stress and negative mental health than those not practicing meditation.
Why Meditation Improves Emotional Health
Research shows that meditation as part of the treatment regimen for anxiety, depression, and medical conditions that can be exacerbated by stress including ailments such as asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer has been successful.
Meditation is beneficial in filling participants with a sense of calm, peace, and balance due to the process of eliminating the overcrowded stream of thoughts in your mind and focusing attention on a specific event or detail.
With the influx of information technology filling our minds combined with daily tasks, job expectations, and personal obligations, we spend much of our lives in our own heads. We are constantly striving to stay a pace ahead in the rat race and, in doing so, miss the opportunity to be present in our environment.
Meditation allows the opportunity to tame your thoughts, reorganize your focus, and become acutely aware of what is happening in your own body. People that use meditation regularly are more likely to feel satisfied by their lives and worry less about the future, success, and self-esteem.
Aside from experiencing self-satisfaction, meditation can also lead to deeper connections with others due to the ability to completely present in the moment.
With practice, meditation allows you to become centered regardless of the circumstances around you. While it cannot stop you from experiencing unpleasant circumstances or feeling pain it can equip you with the tools needed to accept your current state and focus on what needs to be done to get through it.
Mental And Emotional Benefits Of Meditation
While there are some neurological and anxiety disorders that can be hindered by meditation it is beneficial to many more.
The range of emotional benefits from meditation are extensive and include:
• Reduced Anxiety
• Better-controlled depression
• Improved critical thinking
• Break unhealthy habits by detaching emotions from the action
• Increased control over thoughts
• Ability to stay in the moment
How To Use Meditation To Improve Emotional Health
Meditation rarely comes naturally for a beginner. You may feel silly or even frustrated at your lack of concentration in the beginning. As you grasp the process of meditation, you may even be shocked to recognize the superfluous thoughts and activities that are competing for your attention on a regular basis. Distractions will not go away.
One of the first steps to creating a successful meditation regimen that will benefit your emotional well-being is recognizing that you will encounter distractions that will compete for your thoughts and have the ability to accept the distractions and release them.
Perhaps one of the greatest side effects of meditation is that the calm does not leave immediately after the meditation practice has ended. Instead, the calm remains with you and helps you to maintain a focused and balanced outlook throughout your day, allowing you to respond to circumstances rather than react to them.
People that meditate regularly experience less emotional distress when faced with stressful situations.
How Meditation Improves Memory
It is becoming more and more common to hear people complain of a lack of concentration.
Being unable to focus on a book, or sit through a television show without our minds wandering is becoming more and more difficult.
Whether it’s caused by too much sensory input or because technology has us too connected to the world around us, our lack of concentration is having a negative impact on our memory.
Concentration And Memory: It is important to understand what both memory and concentration are.
• Memory is the act of being able to recall information that you were previously exposed to. This can be something you have seen, heard, read or experienced.
• Concentration is defined as the ability to focus your attention on something while excluding the other things around you.
Here are a couple of examples of how concentration and memory work together:
• You are reading the newspaper while the radio plays. Being able to concentrate on just reading the newspaper means you are more likely to remember what you are reading and not what was being said on the radio. Whereas, if you were distracted by the radio you may remember the song that was playing, but not the details of the article you were reading. The distraction doesn’t need to be external. It can be an internal thought that is distracting you.
• You are in a staff meeting. While your boss is explaining what he needs everyone to do for a project, you are thinking about the list of groceries you need to pick up from the store after work. After the meeting when you begin to work on the project you don’t remember the details of what your boss covered earlier in the meeting and find yourself asking for clarification.
What Is Meditation and Its Benefits?
Meditation is the art of focusing away from external stimuli and achieving a clear relaxed state of mind. It allows your mind to become clear and silent. It is considered to be the most powerful way to enhance your concentration.
When you first begin meditating, you are going to have lots of intruding thoughts. As you practice, these thoughts will be easier and easier to let go of. Eventually you would need to use your conscious mind to send the distracting thoughts away; instead, your subconscious will dismiss them before you consciously acknowledge them.
Meditation And Concentration:
When you are trying to focus or concentrate on something, there is a tendency to be distracted by your wandering mind, similar to the process of learning to meditate. By learning how to let go of your thoughts to achieve a clear mind, you will be able to apply the same methods to focus your mind to concentrate on what you are doing.
Similar to the process with meditation, eventually your subconscious will dismiss the intrusive thoughts before you are aware of them.
If you are able to improve your concentration and focus, you will also improve your memory. A study published in the journal Psychological Science found that people who practiced meditation had a better short-term memory. This is because it is easier to keep things in your short-term memory when your mind is jumping around from thought to thought.
Practice Makes Perfect
Learning to meditate can be frustrating. Our brains have been trained to have control over our thoughts. If you stick with it, you will learn how to focus without being distracted by intrusive thoughts and stimuli.
As you are better able to concentrate, you will also be better able to remember the things that you want to remember and your memories will no longer be getting lost among stray thoughts.