Meditation has become almost mandatory in the modern world for those who want to manage huge amounts of stress. But did you know that meditation can change the brain in the process? Yes, it is that powerful. If the brain can significantly affect our bodies when we're stressed, it only makes sense to do everything we can to stand in the way of that. Numerous studies report that meditation helps relieve anxiety and depression and improves attention, concentration, and overall psychological well-being. And the great news is that those effects can remain permanent—with a good amount of persistence.
First of All, What Is Meditation?
The goal of meditation is training your awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. The biggest misconception is that you will need to try to turn off your thoughts or feelings. With meditation, you are learning to observe them without judgment. Eventually, this may lead you to better understand them as well. The end goal is different for each person. Some choose to meditate in order to reduce stress, and others want to improve their concentration and memory.
How Do We Meditate?
Typically, a meditation begins by sitting comfortably in a quiet place, closing the eyes, calming the mind, and focusing on the breath. By doing so, we are training the mind to stop being easily distracted and be more focused on the present moment. We slowly learn to let thoughts and feelings come and go using our breath.
We do this to observe our thoughts without getting caught up in them. With regular practice, the mind becomes more comfortable with sitting still. We begin to learn how to integrate calmness, focus, and mindfulness into the rest of our day.
1. Meditation Can Change the Brain by Affecting Its Structure
Meditation changes the way our brains respond to distractions. When you can focus entirely on the present and train yourself to do this consistently, the structure of your brain changes. A team of researchers found that eight weeks of mindfulness training increased the gray matter concentration of the part of the brain responsible for memory and regulating emotions. They also found decreases in the volume of the part of the brain responsible for emotions such as stress, fear, and anxiety. The meditation changed the structures in the participant's brains, and it also changed how they felt.
2. Improves Focus and Concentration
Meditation involves a strong focus of attention during practice. This can be transferred into daily activities and help improve focus and attention even when you are not meditating. One of many studies on the topic found that mindfulness training improves working memory capacity and reduces mind wandering. After only two weeks, individuals studying for an exam found their focus and memory improved. The result was a significantly increased score on the exam.
3. Helps Preserve the Brain That's Aging
According to another study, those who meditated long-term had better-preserved brains as they aged than those who did not meditate at all. Those who had been meditating for around 20 years had more grey matter volume throughout the brain. The researchers observed a pervasive effect of meditation that involved regions throughout the entire brain. It was quite unexpected that meditation can change the brain to that extent!
4. It Rivals Antidepressants
Researchers observed meditation and its ability to reduce depression, anxiety, and pain
symptoms. They found that the effect size of meditation was equal to that of antidepressants- pretty impressive, right? It makes sense if we take into account that meditation is an active form of brain training. Opposite to the general perception that mediation is sitting down and doing nothing, it is an active training of the mind to increase awareness. No treatment is a magic potion for depression, but it certainly is one of the tools that can help manage the symptoms.
5. Makes Us More Empathetic
Empathy, compassion, and our sense of perspective are related to the brain's temporoparietal junction or TPJ. TPJ shines a light on everything other than subjectivity and referral to oneself. It becomes more active when we put ourselves in someone else's shoes. In addition to all the other benefits of meditation, like lower stress and present moment awareness, a stronger TPJ can help us be more empathetic and kind to those around us.
6. Helps Those Recovering from Addiction
We now have an abundance of proof that meditation can change the brain significantly. Given its effects on the self-control regions of the brain, can it also help with addiction? It is no surprise that many studies are examining the effects of meditation as a recovery tool for those battling addiction. One study evaluated the long-term efficiency of mindfulness-based relapse prevention in reducing relapse into substance abuse. After twelve months, those participating in the program reported significantly fewer days of substance use and considerably decreased heavy drinking.
7. Meditation Can Change the Brains of Kids Too
Meditation has as much effect on the kids'; developing minds as it has on adults—perhaps even more. Educators have been introducing meditation and yoga to school kids for a while now, and it's had remarkable effects. Especially for those dealing with the stressors inside the school and additional stress and trauma outside school. Several high-risk schools started a meditation program twice a day. They saw a decrease in suspensions and an increase in GPAs and attendance. The cognitive and emotional benefits of meditation for schoolchildren are undeniable.
Other Ways You Can Relax
In addition to meditation, there are various ways you can calm your body and mind. Relaxation is vital for everyone, so you should find ways to do it that work for you. It is no surprise that for some people, relaxation comes from being active instead of sitting or lying down. If that is your case, consider going for a run. If you can—go for a swim. This is undoubtedly one of the best ways to relax your body and mind. You don't have to be a great swimmer to enjoy swimming. Simply being in the water or floating on the surface will do wonders for you. And lastly, if you prefer something less active than running but more involved than meditation—go for yoga. You cannot go wrong with whatever you choose, as long as it brings you relaxation, slows down your mind, and focuses on your breath.
Give Meditation a Try!
Undoubtedly, there are many more ways meditation can change the brain, in addition to the
amazing ones mentioned. If you are struggling with any issues—big or small—why not give
meditation a try? It will surely open your mind to new possibilities and more stress-free life.
Article Written by Tanya Douglas
Thanks so much to Tanya for the beautiful article on the incredible power of meditation! Also don't forget to check out my monthly meditation sessions if you are finding that you need balance.