A Neuroscientist Explains What Happens To Your Brain When You Meditate
Meditation is becoming very popular lately. Perhaps it’s the anecdotal evidence friends are sharing with each other or the fact that more and more science is coming out to confirm the benefits of meditation that it’s encouraging people to take up the practice. Meditation has shown to decrease stress, increase happiness,quality of life, increase gray matter in the brain, making people more compassionate, lowering blood pressure, increasing memory and more. A great series of benefits from such a peaceful practice.
Meditation can be discouraging at times. It’s not easy to calm your mind, stop the thoughts and get into a space that is quiet. Since many of us, especially in western culture, are never taught to explore this practice at a young age it can be even harder to get into a quiet meditative space realizing that we are not our thoughts or mind. If you are discouraged you can get some tips here. If you are looking for some great ways to get into meditation, you can check these out.
What Happens When You Meditate?
A group of Harvard neuroscientists came together to study the benefits of meditation on the brain and how it affects mindfulness. Sara Lazar enrolled her team of 16 subjects in a 8 week mindfulness program to see if meditation, over a short period of time, could begin to create changes in lifestyle and the brain.
The subjects were given a 45 minute guided mindfulness exercise to be used daily and they were encouraged to do various daily activities with as much mindfulness as possible. On average the subjects performed about 27 minutes of mindfulness each day. The results of this study is discussed below.
Britta Hölzel, the lead author on the paper says, “It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.”
One of the biggest things that happens to our brains when we meditate is that it stops processing so much information. Beta waves generally indicate a processing of information. When beta waves are decreased, we see a decrease in information processed. Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging, (MRI) we can see how and where beta waves are decreasing the most. This is indicated by the color changes in the image below.
Taking things a little deeper, the following areas of the brain were affected by meditation in different ways.
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.
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 funneling some sensory data deeper into the brain and stopping other signals in their tracks. Meditation reduces the flow of incoming information to a trickle.
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.
“This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.” Sarah Lazar Ph.D., the study’s senior author.”
The video below is a presentation from neuroscientist Sara Lazar about how meditation affects your brain.
Societal Benefits For The Bigger Picture
When we begin to consider the benefits of meditation we can start to imagine how different our world might look if everyone, or even the majority of people began practicing meditation more regularly. Could an increase in mindfulness, happiness, care, and empathy for others make an impact on our world? How about reduced stress and better memory? As opposed to many of the practices we do in our society today, drinking, smoking, drug use, pharmaceuticals for EVERYTHING, television, which are all seen as generally acceptable, imagine if a portion of the time spent doing things destructive to our body and mind was replaced with meditation instead. What might the outcome look like?
Certainly some interesting things to ponder when you realize that many of the issues we see today in our world on a daily basis stem from a lack of mindfulness and a take over of egoic individuality where we lose sight of how our actions might affect others or how we can get caught up in taking things personally. For example, studies have shown that meditation makes people connect better with others and feel more compassionate towards them. Given how many of our daily and worldly challenges stem from seeing others as a problem to our own lives, isn’t it fair to say that suddenly seeing beyond these perceived perceptions and gaining a connection to others could instead create a more peaceful and joyous reality?
I feel that many of our worlds problems are not necessarily due to the structures around us presenting limitations but because the consciousness or mindset that acts as the foundation for our world is creating this experience. To change our world from the source, a change in mindset (consciousness or world view) would trigger a different understanding of how we could live and create our world. Instead of simply operating from belief and programming as we do today, we could strip that away and create from a space connected with our hearts and true selves, something I believe would drastically change our world.
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