Many may already be familiar with the many benefits of meditation. But do you know exactly what meditation has on the brain itself? Dr. Paula Watkins, a psychologist and meditation expert, will teach you about the effects of meditation on the brain, based on the support of scientific research.
Mindfulness meditation can benefit you by changing the structure of your brain in five ways:
1.Meditation promotes hippocampal health and enhances learning and memory
The hippocampus is a small, deep area under the cortex of the brain. The hippocampus plays an important role in learning and emotional regulation, especially helping to organize and combine information and organize from short-term to long-term memory.
In 2011, researchers at Harvard University demonstrated for the first time that only eight weeks of mindfulness meditation training caused a significant increase in hippocampal thickness.
2.Meditation promotes calmness of the amygdala and lowers stress levels
The team at Harvard University also found that mindfulness meditation reduces the amount of brain cells in the amygdala. The amygdala is the part of our brain that controls fear, anxiety, and stress.
These physical changes were consistent with the participants’ self-reported stress levels. It shows that physical changes in the brain also correlate with human subjective perceptions and emotions.
3.Meditation builds a faster, thicker, more fitted prefrontal cortex, improving concentration, attention, and focus alignment.
Focusing on something (eg breathing or mantra) is one of the main exercises in meditation. Therefore, it is not surprising that meditation has the effect of improving concentration and preventing distraction.
Improving concentration is one of the well-studied benefits of meditation. And this mechanism is unexpectedly simple. Concentration activates the frontal cortex and increases blood flow to this area. If you meditate enough times, your blood flow will become more stable, leading to the growth of gray matter (known as cortical thickening). You can actually see it in the brains of experienced meditators.
4.Meditation increases gray matter, prolongs telomeres and delays brain aging
The human brain begins to lose volume and weight as it ages. Meanwhile, studies have shown that long-term meditators have better brain preservation than non-meditators. The meditator retains more gray matter volume. And older meditators showed some loss of brain volume, but not as significantly as non-meditators.
Meditation also helps protect telomeres (protective caps at the ends of chromosomes). Telomeres are longest when young and naturally shorten with age. Shorter telomeres increase the risk of many illnesses, including stress and cancer, and rely on telomerase enzymes to reconstruct and repair telomeres.
Researchers at the University of California have shown for the first time that meditators have higher telomerase activity than non-meditators. Their discoveries have since been reproduced.
5.Meditation strengthens empathy and compassion and activates the insular cortex
Empathy is the ability to read the minds of others and is defined as the ability to understand the emotions of others. Compassion, on the other hand, is another. Compassion is an interest in the suffering of others and oneself.
Studies over the last decade have consistently shown that meditation can enhance both of these qualities. Both empathy and compassion are tied to an area of the brain known as the insular cortex.
The insular cortex holds the key to self-awareness and empathy for emotions. It enables us to understand our own emotions and the emotions of others. The higher the empathy, the more active the insular cortex is when witnessing the emotions of others.
Meditators have confirmed that this area of insular cortex is more active and that the cortex of the islets is thicker. More recent studies have also shown that meditation increases the compassionate response to the suffering of others.
So why not try meditation? By engaging in meditation on a regular basis, you can enjoy more of the benefits to your brain. And you will feel healthier and happier.