How Meditation Can Change The Brain
Let’s take a closer look into meditation and the deep connection it has with our brain.
What Is Meditation
Before we examine the connection that meditation has with our brains, we must define what meditation is exactly. Meditation is a mind and body practice. It increases calmness and reduces stress, promotes physical relaxation, improves psychological balance, enhances overall health, and can even help individuals cope with illness.
The use of meditation is increasing in the United States. In fact, the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) showed that the proportion of American adults who used meditation in the previous year tripled between 2012 and 2017, leaping from 4.1 percent to 14.2 percent.
Meditation is also growing in popularity among American children aged 4 to 17 years. Individuals in that age group’s involvement increased dramatically during the timeframe, jumping from 0.6 percent to 5.4 percent.
Types Of Meditation
There are several types of meditation, such as mindfulness meditation, mantra meditation, and movement meditation. Most forms of meditation incorporate four basic elements:
- A quiet location with minimal distractions
- A comfortable position, such as sitting, lying down, or walking
- Something to focus on, such as a specific word or phrase, an object, or simple breathing techniques
- An open attitude, such as allowing distractions to come and go without judgment
How Meditation Affects Our Brains
Meditation has shown to slow down our brains from actively processing information as normally and quickly as we would during a non-meditative state. This decrease in beta waves, which are most active when we are alert, attentive, and engaged in solving problems and making decisions, can result in as little time as that spent in a 20-minute meditation session.
By using advanced technology, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, scientists can see what happens in our brains when we meditate. An fMRI scan measures brain activity by detecting changes associated with blood flow.
Gaëlle Desbordes, an instructor in radiology at HMS and neuroscientist at MGH’s Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, has been conducting research on meditating and shares her own experience.
“My own interest comes from having practiced those [meditation techniques] and found them beneficial, personally. Then, being a scientist, asking ‘How does this work? What is this doing to me?’ and wanting to understand the mechanisms to see if it can help others. If we want that to become a therapy or something offered in the community, we need to demonstrate [its benefits] scientifically.”
Now, here are other ways that meditation can change the brain:
Meditation Engages Different Parts Of The Brain
Meditation can change where activity occurs in our brains. The frontal lobe, in particular, is the part of the brain that is responsible for reasoning, planning, emotions, and self-conscious awareness. It is considered to be the most evolved part of the brain, and meditation tends to make this part of the brain go “offline”.
The parietal lobe, which is responsible for processing sensory information, and thalamus, which relays motor and sensory signals to the cerebral cortex, are also affected by meditation with slowing down and even stopping other signals from firing.
Enlarges The Prefrontal Cortex
The prefrontal cortex covers the frontal lobe, which is the front part of the brain responsible for rational decision-making. Research shows that meditation increases grey matter in the prefrontal cortex––having extra brain cells in this region can boost our ability to make rational decisions.
Shrinks The Amygdala
As the emotional center of the brain, the amygdala is essential to our ability to feel certain emotions, such as fear, and to perceive these emotions in other people. A larger amygdala can equate to higher anxiety. Studies show that meditation shrinks the amygdala, which in turn provides us with greater emotional control.
Thickens The Hippocampus
The hippocampus is responsible for learning and the formation of new memories. Research shows that practicing mindfulness meditation for just a few weeks can increase the size of the hippocampus. Increasing grey matter here suggests greater ability to learn and remember.
Increases Your Grey Matter
Grey matter is the tissue that contains brain cell bodies and unmyelinated axons. It is responsible for muscle control, memory, emotions, speech, decision-making, and self control. Research shows that meditation training increases grey matter, which suggests that meditation can improve our brains’ processing power in these areas.
Enhances Activity Of Certain Brainwaves
Brainwaves are electrical impulses in the brain that are generated when brain cells communicate. Certain brainwaves are associated with various communications, like high-frequency gamma waves occurring during states of altruism, universal love, and the ‘higher virtues’. Research shows that people who have been meditating for a long time have more gamma wave activity before and during meditation.
The Benefits Of Meditation
Meditation and the changes it makes to our brains provide a wide variety of benefits. According to Mayo Clinic, the practice of meditation can promote emotional well-being by clearing away the “information overload” that contributes to stress. This can lead to improved focus, decreased anxiety, enhanced creativity, increases in compassion and patience, sharper memory, less stress, and optimal self-awareness.
Meditation may be especially helpful for those with certain medical conditions––particularly conditions worsened by stress, such as anxiety, tension headaches, sleep problems, and depression. Practicing meditation may also help those with asthma, cancer, chronic pain, heart disease, high blood pressure, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Remember that meditation is not to replace medical treatment, but may be a useful addition. Be sure to consult your medical professional prior to making adjustments to any treatments and starting a new health practice.
In recent years, we’ve seen Harvard scientists using fMRI to investigate the beneficial effects mindfulness meditation can have on depression.
Getting Started With Meditation
Being unfamiliar with meditation, or simply having difficulty in finding the time to practice, may make starting a meditation practice a struggle. Fortunately, iFit® app can help. No prior experience needed. Strengthen the Mind Meditation Series with iFit guide, Kevin Courtney, will help shape and strengthen your practice with basic meditation tips that are intended to generate a calm and stable mind.
As the series progresses, your iFit guide introduces more advanced techniques to enhance focus, cultivate awareness, and ultimately help you find your way to a bright, luminous mind.
With so much going on around us and life pulling us in many different directions, it may do some good for your physical and mental health to take a step back and calm your mind with meditation each day. And with guidance from iFit, you’ll be well on your way to finding that inner peace and getting back to the root of you.
DISCLAIMER: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. ProForm assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article. Always follow the safety precautions included in the owner’s manual of your fitness equipment.
IFIT DISCLAIMER: iFit requires an internet connection and Wi-Fi to function. You will be required to provide your credit card information upon sign-up for iFit. Your Commitment Period may be month-to-month or twelve (12), eighteen (18), or thirty-six (36) months, depending on your agreement. Terms shall apply to your iFit use and subscription during your Commitment Period and any subsequent Renewal Term. Unless you cancel your account or notify us at least twenty four (24) hours prior to the expiration of your commitment period that you do not wish to renew your subscription, your iFit subscription will automatically renew for an additional month, one (1) year, or two (2) year period, as applicable, for the same duration as your initial commitment period (“The Renewal Term”), and you authorize us to bill the then-applicable membership fee and any taxes to the payment method we have on record for you.