We’ve all heard meditation is good for your brain, and with the rollout of meditation apps and courses over the past few years, it’s becoming more and more well known that meditation can benefit us vastly. With this increase in popularity, also comes scientific research into the positive effects of meditation. Now, we can actually see the various neurological benefits that meditation has on the brain, including actual changes in gray matter - or increased activity in certain areas of the brain. Looking at these benefits alongside the psychological effects of meditation on our well-being, it’s easy to see exactly how meditation can change your mind and brain.
Meditation Can Help Preserve Aging Brains
Meditation on a long-term basis can help to preserve our brains as we age, more than people who don’t meditate. A study by UCLA researchers discovered that those who meditated for around 20 years had more grey matter volume throughout their brains than those who hadn’t meditated before. This is significant because the researchers only expected to find small effects located in one part of the brain - instead, they saw a widespread effect of meditation on the entire brain!
Meditation Reduces Mind-Wandering
We all know that meditation requires us to be present - but did you know that there’s a scientific reason for this? A study carried out by Yale University has found that meditation decreases brain activity in the default mode network - which is the brain network responsible for that mind-wandering. This network is on when we’re not thinking about anything specific, and our minds are running from thought to thought. This activity is linked to rumination and worry.
Meditation Reduces Symptoms of Depression
A recent study looking at the relationship between mindfulness meditation and the symptoms of depression and anxiety found that meditation has a moderate effect on the symptoms - the same level of effect as anti-depression medication can have. This is due to the way meditation works as an active form of brain training, to increase awareness.
Meditation Can Affect Volume in the Brain
A team of researchers at Harvard University in 2011 found that meditation can actually change the structure of your brain! After completing 8 weeks for mindfulness-based stress reduction, participants were found to have increased cortical thickness in their hippocampus - this is the part of the brain that controls learning and memory, as well as some areas that control emotional regulation. As well as this, they also saw brain cell volume decreases in the amygdala - the part of the brain that is responsible for fear and anxiety.
Meditation Can Improve Concentration
Millions of people have trouble concentrating or paying attention to things for a long period of time, it’s not just kids who are affected! But, you guessed it, practicing meditation can improve your attention span and concentration levels. A recent study found that over just a couple of weeks, meditation training can help people’s focus and memory - proving that there’s an increase in concentration levels. The increase in score was up to 16 percentiles, which is a significant amount!
Meditation Can Reduce Anxiety and Stress
Meditation can have amazing benefits for stress reduction, and there’s a lot of scientific evidence to back this up! A genre of meditation known as mindfulness-based stress reduction was developed at the University of Massachusetts’ Center for Mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, which aims to reduce a person’s stress levels. Studies into mindfulness-based stress reduction meditation have shown that it has beneficial effects on reducing anxiety even after the 8-week long initial course.
There is also research to show that mindfulness meditation can reduce anxiety and stress in the self-referential brain regions - a Stanford University research team found that mindfulness-based stress reduction meditation reduced symptoms of social anxiety
Meditation Can Help Addiction
A vast number of newer studies have shown that meditation has an effect on the areas of the brain which control our self-control. Meditation can be effective in helping people who are recovering from addiction. For example, one study found that people who practiced meditation and mindfulness were more likely to quit smoking than those in more conventional treatment. Theories are out there that meditation can help distance the mental state of craving with the act of smoking, so one doesn’t lead to the other.
Meditation Helps Control Pain
Our perception of pain is connected to your brain and your state of mind. There’s research out there that suggests that meditation can help our brains control pain. One such study showed that mindfulness meditation improved the pain in people diagnosed with chronic pain. This could be because meditation can improve your ability to cope with pain.
Meditation Can Release Hormones
Your brain will naturally release neurotransmitters that help to regulate the balance of vital hormones, which influence systems throughout the body. Studies show that practicing meditation can impact the levels of neurotransmitters in your brain, and can affect chemicals such as serotonin, cortisol, endorphins, and melatonin.
If you want to start reaping some of the benefits of meditation, this week's classes give your mind some love and nourishment, through meditation practices. Yoga philosophy says that the whole reason for the yoga practice is to clear your mind and make your body open enough to sit for prolonged periods of time in meditation.
By Amy Cavill
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