Meditation And The Brain

Meditation is correlated to keeping you calm and relaxed. It no doubt reduces anxiety and stress. Studies have found that meditation reduces blood pressure in people with coronary heart disease and enhances the health and the well-being of people who meditate.

However, research has found that meditation alters the structures of the brain and enables you to perform better. It has been found that meditation thickens certain areas of the neocortex such as the right anterior insula and the prefrontal cortex which is involved in sensory processing and attention.  It was observed that the meditators have long attention span than those who did not.

A study found that the gray matter (neocortex) of the mediators increased which is important for learning and memory. At the same time there was reduction in the area of amygdala which is connected to anxiety and stress. Another study of 2008 found that the brain of those who practice meditation had stronger activation levels in the part of the brain connected to empathy (called temporal parietal junctures). This was not found in the control group who did not meditate.

Meditation is form of mental exercise and the neocortex is found to have grown bigger and thicker in meditators. This growth of the neocortex is not due to the result of the growth of the new neurons but due to the increased neuron connections and branching. Growth of the neocortex is also due to widening of blood vessels and supporting structures of the brain such as the glia and astrocytes.

When individuals meditate they do not simply sit doing nothing. They practice mindfulness meditation by focusing on certain objects. The object of focus can be anything and need not be considered as spiritual. It can be anything from focusing on one’s breathing sensations, nature or anything that does not distract the mind from drifting away or indulge in thoughts and feelings of stress or frustrations. Usually meditators are seated on a floor in a calm and quiet environment remaining silent and sometimes guided by a session. Hence it is ideal to learn meditation under trained practitioners.

A recent research of 2011 found that participation in a mindfulness meditation training program resulted in measurable changes in the brain regions of the participants associated with memory, empathy, sense of self and stress. Researcher Britta Hölzel observed that meditation resulted in brain plasticity and noted that we can change our brains to improve our well-being and quality of life.

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