Meditation Can Change Your Brain

02nd June 2014

What is meditation?

Many people have turned to meditation to stay sane in the face of the information overload of our chaotic modern world. Just as exercise makes the body fit, meditation makes the mind fit. And you don’t need any special equipment.

Very simply, meditation is like resting. When you work your body hard you need to take a break. The mind is not any different. All day you are processing information, sounds, smells and feelings, and your mind needs a break. Sleep helps but only if you are able to fully relax. Mostly the mind holds on to things and doesn’t really rest.

By meditating you are not trying to solve your problems, but are working to change your attitude to them – to relax around them, and not take everything so personally.

Just a few minutes each day can help reduce your reaction to stressful events, improve your concentration and sharpen your minds. You will be calmer, clearer and happier.

Notice differences in just eight weeks!

Using modern technology, scientists have developed a more thorough understanding of what’s taking place in our brains when we meditate. Mindful meditation is a powerful tool for continuous brain development. And there are real, measurable, physical changes that take place in the brain of those who meditate regularly.

Just eight weeks of regular practice is enough to measure changes in the brain's physical structure - changes that can help all of us cope better with our hectic and often stressful lives.

What happens in each part of your brain when you meditate?

Here’s what happens in each part of your brain during meditation:

Frontal lobe
This is the most highly evolved part of the brain, responsible for reasoning, planning, emotions and self-conscious awareness. During meditation, the frontal cortex tends to go offline.

Parietal lobe
This part of the brain processes sensory information about the surrounding world, orienting you in time and space. During meditation, activity in the parietal lobe slows down.

The gatekeeper for the senses, this organ focuses your attention by funnelling some sensory data deeper into the brain and stopping other signals in their tracks. Meditation reduces the flow of incoming information to a trickle.

Reticular formation
As the brain’s sentry, this structure receives incoming stimuli and puts the brain on alert, ready to respond. Meditating dials back the arousal signal.

Meditation increases your brain's ability to regulate alpha waves

Alpha waves play a key role in brain activity related to concentration - which things you should pay attention to, and which you should ignore.
Neuroscientists have discovered that mindful meditation increases the brain's ability to regulate alpha waves. By improving modulation of these alpha rhythms, meditators learn to better control which body sensations and signals they pay attention to.

They are also less distracted by negative sensations such as hunger, chronic pain and depressing thoughts. Meditation can alter brain activity and help improve your ability to concentrate and avoid negative thoughts, even while you're not meditating!

Increased cortical thickness

The cerebral cortex is the grey, outermost layer of our brain. This layer of the brain plays a key role in memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language, and consciousness. If you've ever heard the expression "Use your grey matter" this is what they are talking about. Meditation literally increases the thickness in the part of the brain associated with attention, pain threshold, sensory processing as well as memory and consciousness.

Larger grey matter volume in the hippocampus

Research shows that after eight weeks, meditators’ brains showed an increase in the density of grey matter in the hippocampus. This part of the cortex is important for learning and memory, emotion regulation, self-awareness and compassion.

Decreased activity and grey matter in the amygdala

Recent research shows that mindful meditation in just a few weeks can lead to a reduction in stress and negative emotions. Interestingly, the reduction reported correlated with a decrease in the grey matter in the amygdala, part of the brain responsible for anxiety and stress responses to events and negative thoughts.

Increased cortical folding

As well as increasing the thickness in areas of the cerebral cortex, recent evidence suggests that mindful meditation increases the amount of folding (the ridges on the surface of the brain) in the cortex too. More cortical folding is believed to result in faster processing of information, better decision making, better memory forming, and improved attention.

Daily practice is important

When you meditate you are literally changing your brain for the better. This means you will be able to see yourself and everyone around you from a clearer perspective.  At the same time you will be more present, compassionate and empathetic with people no matter the situation.
However, to maintain your gains, you have to keep meditating to ensure the new neural pathways you worked so hard to form, stay strong!

View our range of guided meditation recordings here

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