Meditation produces changes in the brain
Jun 26, 2022
Meditation is in fashion these days; however, it is an ancient practice that has been practiced for centuries.
In recent years, many people in the West have chosen to enter the meditative practice for its benefits both at the mental as well as physical, and it is that meditation becomes a great alternative in these times, because it helps to stay in the here and now, connected with ourselves and with a relaxed mind, away from this busy world, away from expectations unreal.
- Related article: “The 8 types of meditation and their characteristics”
Science supports its practice
The goal of meditation exercises and even of some forms of yoga, is the control of breathing to induce a state of calm and concentration. Paying attention to the breath and controlling it are a basic component of many meditation practices (and also of Mindfulness). Research carried out in this field suggests that this practice has multiple benefits: induces a general sense of well-being while reducing anxiety and improving sleep, for example.
The benefits of meditation are clear, but what exactly happens in the brain during meditation? Neuroimaging studies in humans have shown that brain regions involved in attention (frontal lobe) and emotions (limbic system) are affected at various stages of meditative practice. In addition, a new study carried out in mice and recently published in the journal Science shows that neurons in the brainstem are also involved in the connection between breathing and the state of calm characteristic of meditation.
New scientific evidence
Actually, what this study did was build on previous research, one of them carried out by scientists from the University in California in 1991, who discovered the pre-Bötzinger complex, an area containing neurons that fire rhythmically with each breathing. It is a kind of respiratory pacemaker, very different from the cardiac pacemaker, and has a wide variety of different rhythms, for example, in cases of yawning.
Researchers at Stanford University found that this region is significantly activated during meditation, and Mark Krasnow, a professor of biochemistry at this university and co-author of the study, states that "this is not a region that simply provides air to the lungs, but these breaths are also associated with social cues and emotional”. A group of neurons in this area are the ones that are activated every time we inhale or exhale, like a respiratory pacemaker. Meditation helps to have greater control over breathing and makes us feel great well-being when we have the will to do it.
Other conclusions of the researchers
In addition to the previous study, there are many investigations that have been carried out in order to try to discover what exactly happens in the brain of the meditator. A study published in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging states that those who meditate 30 minutes a day for eight weeks acquire a higher density of gray matter in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, or stress reduction. This gray matter is located mainly in the hippocampus, an important area for learning and memory.
Britta Hölzel, a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and director of the research, explains that "the main idea of meditation is to connect with oneself, with the here and now, with bodily sensations, emotions or the breathing. The essential thing is to find the connection between the body and the mind, and this is what we have shown to happen”
Also, Sara Lazar, scientist of this study concludes that thanks to meditation:
- The thickness of the cingulate cortex increasesas well as part of the limbic system. These regions influence emotions, attention, learning, memory, and the perception of both physical and emotional pain.
- Gray matter in the amygdala decreases, reducing anxiety, fear and stress.
- The left part of the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning, cognitive abilities, memory, and emotion regulation, also increases in size.
- The temporoparietal junction, which is involved in social relationships, perspective taking, empathy and compassion increases its proportions.
benefits of meditation
All of these changes in the brain are responsible for meditation being beneficial to humans. However, these changes do not occur instantly, since meditating requires practice, will and, logically, effort.
Unfortunately, many people think that this meditation is just sitting and breathing; however, especially in the initial stages, one fights against the resistances of the body, and even that you are not aware that this is part of the process, you may not enjoy its benefits in your whole.
However, the good meditator benefits remarkably for several reasons. Meditate helps:
- Reduce stress and anxiety.
- Improve the ability to concentrate and attention span.
- Allows you to sleep better.
- It helps to get to know each other better and find inner peace.
- Promotes empathy and improves social relationships.
- Increases tolerance to pain.
- Increases memory and learning.
- Promotes positive and optimistic thinking.
- You can learn about these benefits in detail in our article: “Benefits of meditation backed by science”