As a meditation teacher, I can’t help but study the amazing research and mindfulness studies being done around the world. I’ve pulled together some information on how science is exploring what may be the final frontier, our brain.
What Has Mindfulness Studies and Brain Research Shown Us? MRI scans show that after an eight-week course in mindfulness, the brain’s“fight or flight” center, the amygdala shrinks. The connections between the amygdala and the rest of the brain decrease, while the connections between areas for attention, peacefulness, happiness, and concentration located in the frontal lobe continue to get stronger.
Until recently, scientists regarded the brain as a mass inside our head. Nothing more and nothing less. It was believed that as adults, we are stuck with the neurology cards we were handed at birth for life. That theory has been proven to be false.
What Does Mindfulness Do To The Brain? What Scientists are Learning…
With the use of MRIs, neuroscientists have discovered that: a) we have far more control over our brain than previously thought; b) changes in the brain can be quantified, and c) we can change our thinking to improve our lives.
The fact is, our brain keeps changing throughout our life. The remarkable truth about mindful meditation is that allows us to control those changes.
For centuries, we have enjoyed the truth of Rene Descartes words, “I think, therefore I am.” Modern science now allows us to amend that bit of wisdom to, “I think, therefore I control who I am.” The realization that we have the power to influence the workings of our brain has many far-reaching potentials.
We are seeing that a mere 30 minutes of mindful meditation a day can have a measurable effect on various areas of the brain. Let’s take a look at what is being discovered.
Through his mindfulness studies and research, Dr. Vago focuses on one basic question – “What are the basic neurobiological and physiological components that constitute adaptive mind-brain-body interactions and their therapeutic relevance in psychiatric settings?”
Mindfulness Studies: Self-Transformation Through Mindfulness | Dr. David Vago | TEDxNashville
How is the Self-represented in the brain and how is it sculpted through our everyday moment-to-moment perceptions, emotions, and thoughts? Cognitive Neuroscientist, David Vago demonstrates that a systematic form of mental training involving meditation and mindful awareness has the potential to transform our self and our mental habits in a positive way.
Learn more about how every moment is an opportunity to change our brain and strongly influence our health & longevity at both conscious and non-conscious levels
This is great information on how to understand mindfulness techniques in your daily life. What has been your experience using mindfulness in your daily life?
A study conducted at UCLA shows that people who have practiced mindful meditation for 20 years or more had a greater amount of gray matter within the entire brain. The results of this study can have life-changing effects on aging diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s and how we age in general.
A Study at Yale University Has Found That Mindful Meditation Decreases “Brain Chattering,” or “Monkey Mind.”
Buddhists call it monkey brain because our brain can resemble the chattering, noisy clamoring of monkeys, especially when driven by fear. The Yale study and others have shown that mindful meditation acts like a volume control, toning down the noise and allowing for some mental peace and quiet.
Studies at Johns Hopkins University have found mindful meditation has a similar effect as medication on the brain in its ability to ease depression and anxiety. While mindful meditation may appear to be just “sitting there,” in reality, it has a powerful healing effect on the brain.
A Harvard Study Has Shown That Mindful Meditation Increases Brain Areas Responsible For Learning and Emotions.
At the same time, it decreases the brain area that deals with stress and fear. In the same study, it was shown that the perception of fear in the participants also changes. In other words, mindful meditation can control the amount and intensity of fear that we experience.
A study at the University of Massachusetts confirms that mindful meditation reduced the level of anxiety in participants. At the same time, as the level of fear decreases, the level of awareness increases, in effect, taking up the new, available space in the brain.
Studies about the effect of mindful meditation on the brain are ongoing. But the fact that we can “tone” our brain muscles in the same way we tone our thighs and abs is encouraging wider interest in the scientific community.
Why Is Self-Awareness In Mindful Meditation So Important?
Greater self-awareness is at the root of mindful meditation. Prior to the 1970s, self-awareness was a somewhat vague concept. At the time, psychologists Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund defined and advanced the link between behavior and thoughts. If we could understand our thoughts, we could increase awareness as to why we behave in a certain way. This led to further studies and the conclusion that we can monitor thoughts and feelings as they happen.
Much of our inner life lies below the surface, in the vast region of the subconscious. Our lives are governed by patterns set long ago, sometimes at birth. Perhaps the first words out of your parent’s mouth when you were born was, “Here my future doctor.”
Growing up, much was expected of you, and your career path was clear. Good schools, perfect grades, best college, then medical school. After an appropriate period, there would be a suitable spouse, a desirable house, followed by two adorable and well-behaved children.
If this is our internal blueprint, we might never question it. We may not even be totally aware that this has been our path from birth. It’s as if we’ve moved on a kind of automatic pilot, with us just along for the ride. If at age 30, we drift into a state of depression, we become utterly confused. We have achieved our dream. What could possibly be wrong?
Our mind can be conditioned in many ways. With the help of mindful meditation, we can recognize a pattern of behavior. It’s this awareness that allows us to take that first proactive step toward change. We are now in the driver’s seat.
There are countless ways when our conditioning simply bypasses our inner self. We are someone else’s creation, not a person in our own right. Our thoughts and feelings are so deeply buried, we are no longer aware of them. Except, on some level, we are aware.
But our only clue may be anger, sadness, or simply, a deadening numbness. We lose interest in things that used to excite us, we deliberately sabotage relationships, because then at least we have a logical reason for feeling miserable. Maybe we turn to drink and drugs.
Self-awareness isn’t a magic pill. But when we practice mindful meditation and examine new thoughts and feelings, it serves as a roadmap to different choices and opportunities.
If you want a clue as to how awareness – or the lack of it – affects behavior, look around you. Do you have a friend who is in constant financial difficulties, but spends every weekend at the mall buying more shoes and makeup? Do you have a co-worker who constantly argues with and belittles people, yet wonders why he has no friends?
The link between thoughts and behavior couldn’t be clearer. People sleepwalk through life and act on sheer impulse. They are unable to control their behavior because they are not in control of their mind and feelings. Their feelings are controlling them.
How Self-Awareness Promotes A Positive Attitude & Perspective On Our Lives
There is another reason awareness is so important if we wish to move forward. Many of us ruminate about past wrongs. Some of us even obsess about them. Anger and bitterness can take over our mind and leave little room for anything else.
At the same time, studies show that our memories can be very different from reality. Maybe we were bullied a few times in school. What we remember is not only the bullying but the emotions that were a part of the experience – shame, anger, helplessness.
When we recall the bullying, what we really remember are those negative feelings. This can significantly affect how we see ourselves and how we behave toward others. Maybe we are overwhelmed by shame and feel worthless, or we thrive on anger and start bullying others before they have a chance to bully us. These behaviors become ingrained habits, and we react automatically without understanding why.
Sadly, Many People Go Through Their Lives Chained to a Script.
The dialogue for these scripts can be written in childhood, and we spend our days reacting to established clues.
Growing up, were you called stupid, unattractive, or clumsy? It may be 20 or 30 years later; maybe the people who labeled you are no longer here. But, their voices still resound in your brain, whether you’re consciously aware of them or not.
Every time you tell yourself, “I can’t do this.” “Why bother?” “No one worthwhile will ever love me,” your mind replays a script that determines your actions. The path you’re walking now was set long ago. The band has stopped playing, but you’re still dancing to the music.
As you become aware of your life’s script, it may seem like a case of mistaken identity. Every fiber of your being is arguing, “But this isn’t ME!”
Whatever your pattern, it has moved you further and further from your true essence. This can be a painful realization. At the same time, it can be the key to the release from a lifetime of mental bondage.
The more you engage in mindful meditation, the more you will understand the reasons for your past actions and will be able to develop a new, alternative life script. It is never too late to change. As a matter of fact, mindfulness meditation makes it easier to open our mind and accept a different, perhaps unexplored path.
With mindful meditation, you become aware of the negative dialogue that guides your behavior. The opportunity to change the life script you’ve been living and open doors to better, more life-affirming choices are both exciting and challenging. But it is always worth it.
There is a possibility that some of the new awareness will make you uncomfortable. We’re all human. We’ve all behaved badly or made mistakes we would rather not think about. And here comes mindful meditation, about to make us confront behavior we’d rather forget. It can seem scary, at first.
To quote Dr. Phil, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.
Eliminating Bad Habits With Mindful Meditation: Becoming A Better Version Of You
The unwanted behavior will continue until you face it. Denial is a luxury you can’t afford if you want to move forward. As a matter of fact, the problem will only worsen. Know that it is never too late to change. Sometimes, it does take some courage.
The point is so critical, it bears repeating. “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.” Change isn’t always easy but may be necessary to become a better version of you.
There are other forms of meditation that urge us to brush away bad thoughts as if they were unwelcome and unpleasant intruders. What they are, in effect, saying is that you are your thoughts. You have probably felt the effect of “bad” thoughts. “I’m a bad person.”
You identify yourself with your thoughts. That gives one particular thought an extraordinary power. The fault with that logic is that you are not your thoughts. Perhaps you are a person who has done a bad thing, but you are not a bad person. The difference is crucial when we attempt to change.
The “bad” thought isn’t the real problem. Thoughts in themselves are neutral. When we strive for greater awareness, the issue becomes our inclination to resist accepting negative thoughts. That just makes them more powerful and prevents us from exploring them in a non-judgmental, mindful way.
When we start to label ourselves as bad or lazy, we accept that our entire essence can be defined with one word. When that happens, we act in ways to ensure that the label fits the deed. Labels become prophetic. We act badly and lazily.
Mindful Meditation Brings Awareness to This Destructive Type of Self-labeling
It lets us view our thoughts non-judgmentally, apart from ourselves and begin to challenge the truth of any label. Behavior is never set in stone. When you challenge your labels, your behavior will change accordingly.
Using mindfulness, the next time you think of yourself as a bad person, you can stop the thought as it happens. Tell yourself, “Here’s that silly label again. This is not who I am.”
Mindful meditation allows us to recognize the labels we have accepted. With non-judgmental awareness, we can act in ways that diminish the power of labels.
Can meditation make you smarter? Many people say they only meditate to manage stress and anxiety, but a meditative practice affects the brain in many other ways. Scientists have found meditation is associated with a thicker cerebral cortex and more gray matter, in other words, the parts of the brain linked to memory, attention span, decision making, and learning.
Can meditation heal the brain? There is evidence that meditation shrinks neurons on the brain’s hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in a learning capacity, memory, and positive mood. The self-healing hippocampus has the ability to regenerate if stress is reduced. This has been shown to be true in many scientific mindfulness studies.
Does meditation raise IQ? Mindfulness studies show that there is something you can do to dramatically improve your fluid intelligence as well as your overall IQ: meditate. Meditation is not just good for your physiological health, by reducing stress, improving your mood, and sets you up for emotional equilibrium rather than habitual reactions to everyday events.
Does meditation make you more intelligent to learn better? Researchers have concluded that meditation can actually make a person more intelligent. Evidence also demonstrates that people who meditate regularly are able to focus more deeply and deal with stress better than non-meditators.