This ancient practice is now being heavily studied by different science/psychology researchers such as fMRI and EEG, confirming the multiple benefits of meditation. The results seem to be full of neurological benefits that can actually change the structures of the brain and have a positive effect on the most important organ. Meditation also has positive effects on your psychological health through the increase of the hippocampus which promotes emotional health, improves concentration, and reduces levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. Let’s go over some of the most interesting proven positive effects of meditation for our brain and mood.
1. Meditation changes the structure of our brain: A study in 2011 by Sarah Lazar from Harvard found that 8 weeks of ‘Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction increases cortical thickness in the hippocampus which regulates learning and memory, and in several areas of the brain that regulate self-referential processing. Meditation also decreases brain cells in the amygdala which is accountable for fear, anxiety, and stress indicating that meditation not only changes the brain but also changes our subjective perceptions and feelings. A follow-up study by the same researchers found that after meditation training, the changes in the brain were linked to arousal and improvements in the participants' psychological well-being. Overall this study proves that changes in the brains and parts of it being activated improve our mood and overall well-being which can be done through the regular practice of meditation.
2. Your decisions become more fluent: Stress leads to unclarity and can lead to bad decisions as a result. It might affect your work, the people around you because when you’re stressed, burned out, you are not your best self and if you are stressed out often then the consequences can multiply. When you are not your best self, not focused, your executive functioning skills lack. Executive function is controlled by the frontal lobe in the brain which helps functions like managing time, being organized, remembering details, and doing things based on your past experiences. All these functions are essential to get results for the goals you want to achieve. Studies have shown that meditation helps improve executive functioning skills. 78% of improvement was seen in adults with attention-deficit/ADHD when they regularly practiced Meditation
3.Reduction of activity in the ‘ME’ center of the brain: A study by Yale University, found that mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the Default Mode Network, the part of the brain which is responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts. Mind-wandering is associated with unhappiness as we tend to clutter our brain with thoughts about the past, future, and worries. Through meditation, this study proved that meditation’s effect on the DMN leads to less of the mind-wandering. If you meditate and the mind starts to wander you are easily able to snap out of it.
4. Meditation kills anxiety, is as good as antidepressants and brings peace: In India, 38million people suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder and 56million people struggle with depression. India is the most depressed country in the world according to WHO. Anxiety can range from severe to general, it can start of general which can be just worrying, eventually being a part of your everyday life which can take a toll on anyone, from losing sleep, being tense all the time and having a racing mind. Meditation has been associated as an antidote for anxiety for a very long time. Wake Forest Baptist conducted research through 15 volunteers with normal levels of everyday anxiety and no previous meditation experience. The 15 people took part in 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation and there was a reduction of anxiety after every session of meditation. The brain scans indicated the relief of anxiety through the activation of the anterior cingulate cortex which helps control worry.
Another John Hopkins study found that the effect size of meditation was moderate, at 0.3, which is the same as an antidepressant. Researcher Madhav Goyal says “A lot of people have this idea that meditation is just sitting down and doing nothing but that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind increasing awareness” Meditation does not cure depression but it helps you deal with it better and shows a gradual improvement in our state of mind.
5. The brain stays young: Our brain contains neurons that contain a portion known as grey matter. It is responsible for essential things such as emotions, speech, memory, decision making, and self-control. At the age of 30, our brains begin to shrink, but now there is evidence that regular meditation keeps the brain in shape and prevents shrinking of the brain. A study from UCLA showed that people who had been long term meditators, for an average of 20 years had a lot more grey matter volume throughout their brain compared to people who don't meditate.
6. An overall sense of happiness: When endorphins are released in our brain, it’s used as a natural painkiller but it’s also responsible for the overall sense of happiness you feel. A runners' high is when endorphins are released. A study compared 11 elite runner and 12 highly trained meditators and revealed that both had an endorphin release after running and meditation. But something to note was, the pleasurable effects of endorphin was higher within meditators than runners.
We all are trying to cope up with the hustle every day, trying to create a better life for ourselves through working hard. Challenges pop up every day and sometimes there can be a lot on our plate. If we don't figure out how to deal with all the challenges and be the best versions of ourselves, mentally and physically there can be long term consequences. Meditation has been proven to be a great way to deal with the world as it is today. Try meditation and see the benefits unfold themselves.