Meditation and brain studies have been around, and increasing, for a number of years now. And new studies are consistently revealing more and more incredible information about how meditation positively affects the human brain!
But what precisely are the benefits of meditation on our brain?
We already know meditation lowers cortisol levels, reduces or eliminates anxiety and depression, lowers blood pressure, and even regulates insulin levels in the body.
It’s pretty amazing that something as ancient and simple as meditation can create such a positive impact on people, an impact that has a ripple effect.
However, scientific research actually reveals that meditation literally changes the composition of the brain and how the brain behaves.
MyYogaTeacher offers multiple meditation-only classes on our platform! All taught by extremely experienced, expert yoga instructors. If you aren’t reaping the rewards of meditation or don’t know where to start, get your free 2-week trial of MyYogaTeacher here and check out any or all of the group classes offered!
Now, on to the ways meditation positively affects brain behavior.
Before we dive into this topic, let’s go over the names of the parts of the brain that will be mentioned. No one likes having to look up big words!
Don’t worry. There are only four areas we’ll talk about here!
According to a study reported by the National Institute of Health (NIH), regularly participating in a specific type of meditation called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) increases the brain’s gray matter in the hippocampus.
Not only that, but that same study also showed that the part of the amygdala involved in stress, fear, anxiety, and depression decreased in size.
The actual physical structure of the brain changed because of meditation.
Mind-blowing, right?! (hehe)
This means meditation restructures the brain so that you feel less stressed, anxious and depressed and have better memory and learning capabilities.
Imagine how this would affect a child’s growing brain! And since I mentioned it…
The effects of meditation on the brain is perhaps even more promising when it comes to children. And children in schools. Studies show that even short bursts of meditation through a child’s school day reduces discipline problems, increases their focus, memory, and improves executive functioning.
While certain types of stress responses are beneficial to our survival (even in the modern world), some are not.
Those stress responses that are triggered by our misguided perceptions of a situation or event promote brain cell death. Stress kills. True story.
When we have emotions that stem from something reasonable, we react in a meaningful way. This does not contribute to excessive aging the way emotions stemming from false beliefs or fear-based worries do.
The good news?
Studies show that mindfulness meditation increases thought awareness, improves control of those thoughts, and reduces cognitive stress. That’s the stress that leads to brain cell death, not the kind that saves your life.
Creating more positive states of mind and decreasing the negative ones slows down the rate of cell aging.
Meditation is by no means a cure all for any type of mental health condition, much less anxiety or depression. But it’s an excellent tool for managing the symptoms and, in some cases, does eliminate them altogether.
Most importantly, meditation changes your response to negative thoughts and, when practiced regularly, can even help you manage them in a healthy way.
It teaches you to be aware of your thoughts without judging them or making assumptions about them.
This is not to say you’ll never have depressing, anxious, or generally negative thoughts. But meditating regularly will give you the tools you need to manage them appropriately and behave in healthier, more positive ways.
According to the NIH, decades of research have shown that mindfulness based meditation helps stop addiction and even prevents relapse.
The important thing to remember is that for addiction, consistency in a meditation practice is the key to success. However, it’s also an important practice to start or continue in the event of a relapse.
Because many people who suffer from addiction have little awareness of the negative consequences of their behaviors on their body, relationships, family, and life, meditation plays an important role in helping them gain awareness and gives them tools to change their behaviors.
Another thing to note is since regular mindfulness meditation changes the structure of the brain, the positive side effects are two fold.
Since breaking an addiction is obviously stressful, meditation also helps alleviate that stress response during withdrawals. There is also growing evidence that MBSR training cultivates a practice called “savoring.” This is where focused attention is created around natural rewards. In studies involving this idea, participants had reduced cravings and were less likely to take part in substance abuse behaviors. This “savoring” practice helps people pay more attention to pleasant daily activities and focus on the positive emotional responses they have towards those experiences.
So exciting to think about the idea that mindfulness meditation could actually be saving lives!
What is default mode network activity (DMN)? The DMN is the network within the brain that’s operating when we’re not really thinking about anything at all.
It’s the mind-wandering part of your brain.
Studies show that mind-wandering and “background thoughts” lead to worry, stress, anxiety, and general unhappiness. This network is most active when we’re left to our own thoughts or don’t actively have something we’re thinking about (i.e. when we’re performing a task).
A common misconception about meditation is that you’re doing nothing when is really quite the opposite.
Meditation is active. Just not in the way most people think.
Meditation involves drawing your attention to and concentrating on your immediate experience. It requires you to learn how to be present in each moment. This practice does not generally come naturally (or easily) to humans!
So meditation, then, requires us to think. Which, in turn, helps reduce the “background noise” of the brain that is not only mostly unproductive, but also can lead us into states of worry, anxiety, and depression.
While there is tons of scientific evidence showing that various forms of meditation positively impact the brain, the short and sweet of it is…
A consistent meditation practice makes our lives better.
Here’s a quick list of just some of the benefits of meditation:
Improves concentration and memory
Reduced blood pressure
Helps control pain
Reduces age-related memory loss
Helps fight addictions
Helps control food cravings
Reduces emotional and binge eating
Increases attention span
Helps you become more self-aware
As with many types of medication or therapy, meditation doesn’t just help with one or the other (or maybe a few) of these things listed above. A consistent meditation practice benefits you – and your brain – in all the ways!
Can you tell we’re pretty passionate here at MYT about your health and wellness? We truly do care about your mental, emotional, and physical health. That’s why we are excited to have such an amazing group of experienced, expert yoga instructors with varying backgrounds and who have extensive education in their field on board the MyYogaTeacher platform!
MyYogaTeacher hosts a variety of 35+ group classes, offers 1:1 classes, and members get discounted pricing on all of our phenomenal workshops! If you haven’t tried us out, we want to make it easy for you to do so by offering a 2-week free trial that you can get right here! No credit card required!
We hope to see you on the mat!
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