New Benefits of Meditation: Effect of Meditation on Brain Structure
8 minute read
Whether it is Garden Meditation Day (May 3), or any day with nice weather, taking a moment to bask in the outdoors is one of the easiest means of stress relief available. If you have access to a garden, it makes your efforts that much more rewarding.
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years and is the ultimate way to relax your body and mind. The art of meditation involves centering your mind on the here and now, so that the troubles from your past and worries about the future do not cause anxiety and depression.
What many do not realize is that there are different forms of meditation, and each type offers its own unique benefits to your mind.
Different forms of meditation can offer different benefits from improving your attention span, helping you stay cool under pressure, reducing your stress levels, or making you more empathetic.
The reason it seems that different practices can deliver different results stems from the fact that each form results in a different part of your brain changing. As more than one recent study has found, each meditation form can physically alter a specific part of the brain.
A Malleable Brain Via Meditation
The recent studies involved over 300 people taking part in different meditation techniques. After each method was practiced, individuals were analyzed using an MRI, behavior test, and psychosocial stress test.
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One technique involved mindfulness meditation, which is a psychological form used to focus your attention to present-moment experiences. This is usually achieved through simple breathing exercises.
The other two methods used were more socially based. One involved helping people to open up emotionally by allowing them to talk to a stranger about daily annoyances.
The last method involved encouraging people to think about issues from a different perspective within their own personality. By thinking from the “worried mother” angle or “curious child,” you can develop a deeper compassion.
What these studies revealed was that certain parts of the brain became thicker depending on which meditation method was used.
Compassion-based meditation was linked to increases in the limbic system. This area of the brain is associated with emotional regulation.
When mindfulness meditation was used, the cortex related to attention and executive functioning became thicker.
Benefits of Meditation
It is no secret that the practice of meditation brings your body wonderful health benefits, both physical and mental. Training your mind to focus and redirecting your thoughts helps you to improve sleep patterns, develop concentration, increase awareness, prevent anxiety, and become more aware of your surroundings to name a few benefits.
There are several scientifically proven reasons that meditation is good for you. Here are just a few:
Stress Reducer: The average adult faces a stressful situation daily, often multiple times throughout a day. Stress is a regular part of life, and it can be dangerous if you do not know how to control your reaction to it.
Stress increases the release of cortisol, a hormone that triggers inflammation, which is linked to a host of unpleasant diseases. Meditation has proven to reduce stress levels and can even improve symptoms of inflammatory-related illnesses.
Promotes Emotional Health: The same inflammatory chemicals that are released during stress can cause depression over time. Meditation decreases these chemicals, similar to the effects of turmeric supplements, therefore improving an individual’s outlook and reducing depressive episodes.
There are measurable changes resulting from meditation that can be seen in the areas of the brain associated with positive thinking and optimism.
Increases Attention: Regular meditation has been linked to the strengthening of your attention span. Those who regularly meditate show improved memory skills as well as an enhanced ability to remain focused on a task for longer.
One study even discovered that meditation can reverse the patterns of your brain that cause poor attention and mind-wandering.
Keep Your Brain Young: The aging process is inevitable, and with that your brain shows natural cognitive decline. However, improvements in attention can help to keep your mind young.
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Repetitive meditation chants contribute to enhanced memory and mental quickness, which can keep brain aging at bay for longer. Meditation has even been researched as a potential therapy option for those suffering with dementia.
Help Fight Addictions: Meditation allows you to develop mental discipline that can help you break dependencies you have and triggers of addiction. By redirecting your attention, controlling your impulses, and increasing your willpower, meditation can help individuals struggling with addiction problems.
Improved Sleep: At some point in their life a person will struggle with insomnia. Meditating helps you to control runaway thoughts and allows your brain to settle down.
Racing thoughts are the main culprit behind insomnia, and meditation provides your mind with a way to relax, helping you sleep better and longer.
Controls Pain: Your perception of pain lies within your mind. When you are under stress, this perception can be elevated.
Individuals who meditate show increased activity in the centers of the brain associated with pain control, and they report less sensitivity to pain. These findings make it possible to consider using meditation for the treatment of those with chronic disease and pain.
Lower Blood Pressure: Stress and certain lifestyle choices can cause elevated blood pressure. Over time this increased strain on the heart can cause heart disease and other cardiovascular problems.
The practice of meditation lowers blood pressure readings, which can protect your heart health. Meditation appears to have an impact on the nerve signals that coordinate heart function and the “fight-or-flight” response. By relaxing these signals, blood pressure can lower, and the heart does not have to work so hard.
It Suits Your Needs: Meditation can be practiced anywhere and can involve deep breathing or the relaxed chanting of a mantra. The good part about this is that you can fit it into your life however works best.
Meditation is something you can make your own and this is important when it comes to sticking with it.
The Bottom Line
Up until now, we have known only that meditation is a wonderful way to relax mind and body. The health benefits associated with regular meditation have been well documented.
These new findings have opened up new doors within meditation allowing us to channel these benefits to areas of our life in which we need them. Depending on the benefits you seek, you need to choose your meditation methods carefully.