The Power of Meditation
When the word meditation comes up, people usually think of Monks or Buddhists first. However, there is a reason they meditate so often; meditation does wonders for your brain, and here is how.
There are two main types of meditation: 1) Focused-attention meditation or ‘Mindful meditation‘ and 2) Open-monitoring meditation. In Mindful meditation, you focus on one specific thing ranging from your breathing, a specific sensation in your body, or a particular object in front of you.The key point is to focus on one thing without consideration to other thoughts or events happening around you. When any distractions occur, you must be quick to recognize it and turn your focus back to your focal point. Open-monitoring meditation is where you pay attention to all the things happening around you but you do not react to them.
Meditation has been associated with decreased default mode network activity and connectivity. The brain regions specifically affected are the frontal lobe, parietal lobe, thalamus, and the reticular formation. The frontal lobe is considered to be the most highly evolved part of the brain that is responsible for reasoning, planning, emotions, and self-conscious awareness. During meditation, the frontal cortex tends to go “offline”. The parietal lobe processes sensory information about the surrounding world and during meditation, activity in the parietal lobe slows down. The thalamus helps focus your attention by channeling sensory data deeper into your brain and stopping other signals from firing. Meditation reduces the flow of incoming information to the thalamus. The reticular formation receives incoming stimuli and alerts the brain so it is ready to respond. Meditating actually minimizes the arousal signal. So why is the decrease in all of these brain activities a good thing? These activities are actually undesirable brain functions that are responsible for lapses in attention and disorders such as anxiety, ADHD, and even the buildup of beta amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s disease.
One of the most beneficial aspects of meditation is its effect on ATTENTION. It allows us to practice focusing our attention and awareness when it drifts. It also improves our focus when we’re not meditating. Anxiety is usually alleviated by meditation because it loosens the connections of particular neural pathways involved in anxiety. Creativity is also improved, as shown by a research study done in Leiden University in the Netherlands that looked at both forms of meditation and their effects on creativity afterwards. The participants who practiced open-monitoring meditation performed better on tasks that asked them to create their own new ideas. Furthermore, meditation has been linked to improving rapid memory recall. A study done at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging found that those who practiced mindful meditation were able to adjust and increase the productivity of the brain waves that block distractions more quickly than those who did not meditate. The ability to ignore distractions could explain the ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts.
We also have what is known as a ‘Me Center’ in our brains, which is called the medial prefrontal cortex, which processes information relating to ourselves and our experiences. Usually signals from bodily sensations and fear centers are sent to this ‘Me Center,’ and the neural pathways are really strong. When you meditate, however, these neural connections are weakened, which means that we do not react as strongly to sensations. While those connections are weakened, the connection to the ‘Assessment Center’ in our brains is strengthened. This part of the brain is known for reasoning. Ultimately with meditation, we are able to experience scary or upsetting sensations and more easily look at them rationally without overreacting.
Structurally, meditation is linked to larger amounts of gray matter in the hippocampus and frontal areas of the brain. More gray matter can lead to more positive emotions, longer-lasting emotional stability, and heightened focus during daily life. Meditation also diminishes age-related effects on gray matter and reduces the decline of cognitive functioning. Additionally, people exhibit higher levels of gyrification, which is the folding of the cerebral cortex as a result of growth. This allows for the brain to be better at processing information, making decisions, forming memories, and improving attention.
So take a moment to clear your mind, relieve some stress and anxiety, and allow your brain to strengthen. Namaste.
Your Brain On Meditation – Psychology Today
How Meditation Changes The Brain – NY Times