Many of you have heard about the benefits of meditation, mostly from people who practice it, and unfortunately, very often, you are skeptical about these claims. It is nothing short of normal, not to believe in things that you don’t practice, so anytime you hear that meditation helps to relieve stress, improves concentration, makes you feel more centered and so on, your typical reply is “yeah, yeah, I know”. But in reality, you don’t know, you just assume that it can’t be possible since you haven’t experienced it for yourself.
I have been in this situation many times, receiving positive suggestions from close friends, that I should give meditation a try, but I was always skeptical about it. That was until I really decided to give it a try, and enlighten myself.
After few months of practicing mindfulness meditation, I’ve learned how to accept myself as I am. I’ve realized that my body is my temple, therefore I need to respect it and take care of it from the inside-out. Remember, you only get one in a lifetime! I’ve started finding joy in little things in life, like taking a walk in nature, listening to the birds singing or having a nice lunch with my close ones. Most importantly, I’ve stopped worrying that much and I’ve started becoming clearer if something is worth my time and energy. Nowadays, anxiety and stress are everywhere and they have the power to trigger a stormy wave of negative emotions and even cause physical pain. But, the meditation, on the other hand, has the power to calm the overactive mind and much more!
So now, that is the sole purpose of writing this post; to enlighten you through summarizing scientific results gained through researches about meditation’s impact on the brain. I am sure that by doing this I will provide skeptics with the information and answers they need about meditation, that they will truly believe.
Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, is one of the first scientists that has tried to prove the claims about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. She has tested them with brain scans and she ended up being surprised by the results. The research has shown that meditation can literally change your brain. Keep reading and you will get a clearer picture.
Get to know the brain
Before we start and dive into the technical part, let’s get to know the brain parts first that are influenced with meditation, as well as their mutual connections.
- Lateral prefrontal cortex, also known as the Assessment Center. Its main roles are rational and logical thinking, modulating the emotional responses, overriding automatic behaviors and decreasing the brain’s tendency to take things personally.
- Medial prefrontal cortex, also popular as the “Me Center”. Its main job is to process information related to you, thinking about your future, your social interactions, and daydreaming. The “Me Center” can be divided into two separate sections:-Ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) – it processes only the information related to you and people you view as similar to you. This part of the brain is responsible for taking things too personally, hence mainly responsible for worry, anxious and depressive thoughts or states.-Dorsomedial Prefrontal Cortex (dmPFC) – it processes the opposite information from the vmPFC i.e the information related to people who you view as not similar to you. This part of the brain is responsible for feeling empathy and social connections.
- Insula – part of the brain responsible for the bodily sensations i.e. the “gut feelings”. It is often our guide when responding to the feelings in our body. The insula is also connected to feeling empathy.
- Amygdala – part of the brain with the main purpose of alarming, or mostly known as the “Fear Center”. It is responsible for our initial emotional reactions.
Connections between brain parts
For a better understanding of the impact that meditation has over the brain, we need to recognize two different states of the connections between the brain parts, i.e. the connections before and after practicing meditation.
Before practicing meditation
These are the connections within the Me Center and between the Me Center and Amygdala that lead to taking things personally. Whenever you feel scared or anxious, you assume that there is a problem related to you. This can be explained easily, simply because the Me Center is processing the information.
This is the connection between the Me Center and the Assessment Center which unables the Assessment Center to take over, dismiss the personal interpretation of the information, done by the Me Center, and help understand things more logically, from a more balanced perspective.
After practicing meditation
Practicing meditation improves some brain parts, thus enhancing the helpful connections between the brain parts and weakening the unhelpful ones. That is how it helps us be more balanced, calm, self-aware and centered.
- Assessment Center – Insula/Amygdala – unabling the Fear Center or Gut-feelings to take over and respond to feelings, which results in better awareness, calmness and problem-solving ability. Here it is important to note that not only the connection improves but also the Assessment Center itself, gaining more gray matter, thus enabling more information to be processed with balanced, logical reasoning.
- dmPFC-Insula – resulting in enhanced empathy, which helps us to better understand the dissimilar people, their actions, desires, lifestyle, points of view etc. The dmPFC part of the Me Center is also enhanced when practicing meditation.
Me Center, the vmPFC part – Insula/Amygdala connection results in decreasing the neural paths linking upsetting sensation to the Me Center. You stop taking things personally. This fact alone can explain why anxiety decreases the more you meditate. The vmPFC part of the brain i.e. the “unhelpful” part of the Me Center is also weakened when practicing meditation.
Practice makes perfect
On the long run, practicing meditation will make you more present, compassionate and empathetic, no matter the situation. You will see yourself and everyone around you from a much clearer perspective. Becoming calmer, you will tend to respond to everything around you in a more balanced way.
Anyway, you must remember that in order to enjoy these benefits, you must practice meditation on a regular basis. You may wonder why? Well, the answer is easy: meditation is a form of brain training, thus you need to keep meditating regularly, or else the brain can easily revert back to its old ways. Also remember that the duration of the meditation is not as important as long as you keep practicing every day.
Krista is the editor in chief of Fashion Corner Net. She is a passionate and analytical journalist, always wondering what is her today’s mission in the world. Her life motto is: start your day with coffee, eat clean, sing your favorite song and find excitement in everything you do. She loves to watch TV shows, travel to new places, practice yoga, read motivational quotes and learn foreign languages.