The positive effects of mediation on the mind, body and soul have long been a central part of many Buddhist’s lives. What you may not know is that there are many incredible benefits to your actual brain!
How does meditation stimulate the brain?
A study has shown that MRI images are able to highlight the change in beta-wave activity after a mere 20 minutes of meditation. Take a look at how the various parts of the brain become stimulated by meditation:
- Your Frontal Lobe: If you’re familiar with the anatomy of the brain, you will know that your frontal lobe helps us with self-awareness, planning, emoting and reasoning. During meditation, this area of the brain quiets and almost turns off. On account of this, quieting oneself is the ability to detach one’s mind from their ‘self’.
- Your Thalamus: The thalamus coordinates our senses and sends them from different parts of the body to the brain. During meditation, the sending of information is found to slow the rate of sensory information.
- Your Parietal Lobe: The parietal lobe processes the information sent by the thalamus. Additionally, it gives you the sense of time and space. Similar to the effect on the thalamus, the processing of information is slowed.
- Reticular Information: Responsible for keeping the brain alert based on the stimuli received. Again, this area of the brain is slowed down during meditation.
So, what are the benefits?
Whereas ‘Alpha waves’ are associated with an aroused, heightened state of mind, it is shown that during meditation mainly ‘Theta waves’ are shown. Theta waves show a slowed, relaxed state of mind. Here are 5 areas of your life that meditation can benefit:
- Grey Matter – Though there is no conclusive evidence, it has been suggested by some studies that meditation increases the amount grey matter in the front of one’s brain. So what does this mean? Thicker grey matter increases both your focus, emotional stability, compassion and self-awareness.
- Anxiety – When you find yourself in an anxiety inducing or upsetting situation it is your prefrontal cortex that makes you feel scared or anxious. Meditation eases this area of your brain so that when a reaction is triggered, it is not as intense and reduces pangs of anxiety. Meditation then allows for you to look at the situation from a more rational standpoint.
- Resilience – Researchers from Wisconsin-Madison University took MRI’s of Tibetan monk’s brains and discovered that there is actually a very deep-rooted connection between resilience and meditation. There is a part of your brain called the amygdala that largely controls emotional reactions and emotional memory. This study showed that from meditation the amygdala was able to recover more quickly from emotional stress or trauma.
- Stress – One of the biggest benefits of meditation is reduction of stress. In 2012 a group of researchers split a study group into three. One practicing mindful meditation, one practicing body relaxation training and the last group was given no training at all. The researchers then gave all three groups a multi-tasking task intended to induce stress. The results showed that the group that practiced mindful meditation showed significantly less stress than the other two groups.
- Creativity – Leiden University in the Netherlands produced a study finding that people who practiced open-monitoring meditation performed better at tasks requiring creativity and the production of new ideas. Alternatively, the study also finds that those who practice focus-attention meditation do not receive the benefit of boosted creativity. The study notes however that creativity is an incredibly difficult thing to both measure and study.
What else can meditation effect?
A new study in Scientific American has suggested that meditating not only affects your synapses, but can also change your DNA! To delve further, it states that mindful meditation was shown to have an effect on DNA in certain breast cancer patients. The study elaborates in saying, “In Carlson’s study distressed breast cancer survivors were divided into three groups. The first group was randomly assigned to an 8-week cancer recovery program consisting of mindfulness meditation and yoga; the second to 12-weeks of group therapy in which they shared difficult emotions and fostered social support; and the third was a control group, receiving just a 6-hour stress management course. A total of 88 women completed the study and had their blood analyzed for telomere length before and after the interventions. Telomeres were maintained in both treatment groups but shortened in controls.”
Next time you feel stress coming on in your life, remember all the benefits that meditation can bring and give it a try!