9 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change the Brain
By Joseph McLean
Besides exercise, which has huge impacts on the nervous system, meditation or mindfulness seems to change the brain of people who practice it. In recent years, people have become more interested in finding ways to relax their minds and bodies.
And meditation seems to be the right choice. It has huge impacts on the behavior and way of thinking of people and researchers have found that it enhances connectivity between brain regions. Daily meditation can change the brain over time, but how?
1. It Increases the Hippocampus Volume
According to the reports of the professional writing services, mindfulness meditation has proven to increase the hippocampus volume. The hippocampus is a small part of the brain but which plays an important role in the limbic system. It is associated with the formation of memories and it is also linked to learning and emotions.
An increase in the hippocampus level is associated with improved emotional regulation. However, the effects of increases and decreases in hippocampus levels are still studied. On the other hand, a decrease in the hippocampus level is associated typically with mental disorders such as major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A decrease in the hippocampus level is caused by stress, anxiety and an unhealthy lifestyle, so meditation could be the key to increase the hippocampus level.
2. It Decreases the Amygdala Level
The amygdala is also a small part of our brain but which has important responsibilities. The amygdala is the center of emotions such as fear, anger, and sadness. It also controls aggression and it plays an important role in the process of decision-making.
Daily meditation helps people focus on their breath and body sensations, which comes with a wave of relaxation. It appears that mindfulness decreases the amygdala level, which means that it will be a decrease in anxiety and negative emotions. However, its activity cannot be stopped completely as it has an adaptive function.
3. It Regulates Stress
It may seem surprising, but meditation has a lot of positive effects on people's brains. Just ten minutes of meditation per day can help someone to regulate their stress level. When we feel stressed, the most common reaction is the "fight or flight" response.
A lot of hormones (norepinephrine and epinephrine which is commonly known as adrenaline) are released into our bodies, increasing the level of anxiety, the pulse rate and the way we breathe. Well, meditation is the technique that relies on the opposite mechanism and can be described as a deep mental state. During meditation, breathing, pulse rate, and blood pressure are decreased. If meditation is practiced consistently, it helps the brain form this habit.
4. It Improves Concentration
We all know those moments when we try to concentrate on a task and we do not manage to do so. Recent studies have shown that consistent meditation helps people improve their power of concentration. Nowadays, we live in a world where a lot of stimuli catch our attention.
This impairs our ability to focus and maintain our attention on our tasks. Meditation helps the brain re-focus and maintain the concentration on tasks, even though they are the most boring ones. And a better concentration level is linked with improved cognitive performance.
5. It Protects the Brain Against Aging
The latest studies have demonstrated that meditation has important benefits for our brains. People who practice meditation every day for at least ten minutes have found a way to protect their brains from aging. Even though some effects of aging cannot be reversed, they can at least be slowed down.
A longitudinal study compared the brains of people who meditated regularly for 20 years with the brains of those who did not. People who meditated regularly showed a smaller decrease in the gray matter, which is responsible for information processing (among others). There is a need for more research on this topic, but the first results are promising.
6. It Loosens Connection of Particular Neural Pathways
Even though it seems bad, it is not. The medial prefrontal cortex is like a "me center" which is responsible for processing information related to us and our experiences.
There are strong neural pathways between the medial prefrontal cortex and the amygdala for example, which is the center of emotions. The thing with meditation is that it helps you focus less on aversive stimuli and weaken this neural connection.
While meditation loosens the connection of particular neural pathways, it strengthens the connection with the Assessment Center of the brain which is responsible for reasoning, which is the frontal lobe.
This has a huge effect on our way of reacting to fearful and anxious situations. For example, people who meditate tend to look at aversive stimuli rationally.
8. It Increases Creativity
Even though the evidence on this subject is not so conclusive, it appears that meditation can increase the creativity level. This is based on the basic concept of meditation which is relaxation.
One of the main goals of meditation is to relax and move your attention to other stimuli. Creativity is known to arise in moments of full relaxation, so it might be that people who practice it consistently notice an improvement in their creativity levels.
9. It Increases Compassion
This is a side effect of meditation on the amygdala. Amygdala is the center of emotions, not only of negative ones. It appears that there are a lot of forms of meditation and "compassion meditation" is one of them.
Studies show that people who practice it can reduce their emotional response to good, bad and neutral stimuli. And they also show more compassion towards beings in need.
Practicing meditation should be on everybody's agenda. It changes the brain and it makes you feel more relaxed, empathetic and compassionate. Meditation is also known to increase the hippocampus level and decrease the one of the amygdalae.
Meditation helps you focus on positive stimuli and be more optimistic and calmer. It is also a great way to protect your brain from aging. Researchers are studying the benefits of meditation through longitudinal studies and it appears mindfulness meditation has positive benefits.
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