Mindfulness meditation is probably one of the most powerful tools at your disposal for improving your brain’s capacity.
Neuroscientists are now understanding that the underlying mechanisms for this are due to physical changes in brain structure, as Sara Lazar elaborates about in her presentation below.
Meditation has been shown to have an impact on more than 10 areas in the brain, mostly increasing the size of grey matter in those areas! Let’s take a closer look.
Meditation was shown to increase multiple areas in both of these regions, suggesting that it helps with neurogenesis, neuroplasticity, preventing cognitive decline as well as improving outcomes of neurodegenerative disorders.
It also means that it will likely help one to focus better and think clearer, particularly pertaining to logical tasks such as mathematics, language and problem solving in general.
When examining the structure of the brain, meditation appears to increase the size of the Anterior InsulaInvestigation of mindfulness meditation practitioners with voxel-based morphometry, which is primarily required for emotional intelligence and awareness. This means that it will improve our ability to positively reflect over and control our emotions, without just reacting instantaneously the moment they arise – a very useful skill in many situations!
Meditation also happens to shrink the size of the AmygdalaMindfulness meditation training alters stress-related amygdala resting-state functional connectivity: a randomized controlled trial, which is responsible for fear-based responses. This sheds much light on how it reduces stress and why even for months after meditation, individuals still experienced reduced levels of anxiety.
When we feel fearful or stressed, the amygdala communicates with the insula which forms the beginnings of our emotional response to stress. Meditation also shows a positive result in terms of not only shrinking the amygdala, but also deactivating this connection, allowing us to feel less emotional when under pressure!
This is a part where the temporal lobes join to the parietal lobe. It is responsible for helping to process visual and auditory sensory input, which suggests that meditation helps us to take in more information from our surroundings than those who do not meditate.
The TPJ is also involved in our ability to understand others as well as perceive what others think about ourselves. This means that meditation directly enhances our capacity for compassion and empathy, not just on an emotional level but also on a cognitive one!
Furthermore, this is a crucial area of the brain for interpreting morals and distinguishing the right behavior from wrong behavior. Therefore, it’s safe to say that meditation can even enhance a person’s ethical capacity, depending on their system of morals.
In conditions such as Autism and Alzheimer’s Disease, this region of the brain is often shown to be impaired.
This expresses itself in both of these conditions as well as other mental disorders where the patient is no longer able to discern or regard how they are being perceived by others or whether their actions are right or wrong. This is yet another field in which mindfulness meditation can help those with mental health problems and prevent neurodegeneration.
The cerebellum has been shown to process signals relating to attention, focus, and language, as well as motor control, balance, precision and accuracy in terms of timing.
These are all factors that mindfulness meditation can help to improve, although the most notable effects in this regard are related to improved focus which can helps us to carry out physical tasks more effectively.
This makes sense as mindfulness meditation contributes to making us less reactive. The brain stem is responsible for our immediate reactions, physical or emotional.
The brain stem also governs movements that we don’t think about such as the beating of our hearts, breathing, and blinking. It also selectively sorts out signals coming in and out between the brain and body, helping to process information as the first point of contact. Since meditation increases its size, it suggests that we would be able to process more sensory input as well as carry out all bodily functions with more efficiency.
For those just starting out, a guided meditation where a speaker takes you through the meditation can be very helpful.
If you are interested in learning Tai Chi, the best way is to find a practitioner in your area. If you can’t do that so easily, however, then here are some great instructional DVDs to get you going!