Meditation Produces Changes In The Brain, According To Science

Several investigations report evidence of the benefits of meditation.

Meditation is in vogue today ; however, it is an ancient practice that has been practiced for centuries. 

In recent years, many people in the West have chosen to enter into meditative practice for its benefits both mentally and physically, and that meditation becomes a great alternative in these times, as it helps to stay in here and the now, connected with ourselves and with a relaxed mind, far from this busy world, far from unrealistic expectations.

Science supports its practice

The goal of meditation exercises, and even some forms of  yoga, is to control the breath to induce a state of calm and concentration. Paying attention to and controlling the breath is a basic component of many meditation (and  mindfulness ) practices. Research carried out in this field suggests that this practice has multiple benefits: it induces a general feeling 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 regions of the brain 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 published recently in the journal Science shows that neurons in the brain stem are also involved in the connection between breathing and the calm state characteristic of meditation.

New scientific evidence

Actually, what this study did was build on previous research, one of them, carried out by scientists at the University of California in 1991, which discovered the pre-Bötzinger complex, an area that contains neurons that are rhythmically activated with every breath. It is a kind of respiratory pacemaker, very different from the cardiac pacemaker, and has a great variety of different rhythms, for example, in the cases of a yawn.

Researchers at Stanford University found that this region is considerably activated during meditation, and Mark Krasnow, a professor of biochemistry at Stanford University and a 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 and emotional signals. A group of neurons in this area are those that are activated each 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 greater density of gray matter in the parts of the brain associated with memory, the sense of self, empathy or reduction of stress. This gray matter is located primarily 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 breathing. The essential thing is to find the connection between the body and the mind, and this is what we have shown happens “

Likewise, Sara Lazar, scientist of this study concludes that thanks to meditation:

  • The thickness of the cingulate cortex increases, as does 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 diminishes, reducing anxiety, fear, and stress.
  • The left hippocampus, which is responsible for learning, cognitive abilities, memory and the regulation of emotions, also increases in size.
  • The temporoparietal union, which is involved in social relationships, perspective taking, empathy and compassion increases in proportions.

Meditation benefits

All these changes in the brain are responsible for meditation being beneficial for human beings. However, these changes do not occur instantaneously, since meditation requires practice, will and, logically, effort. 

Unfortunately, many people think that meditation is just sitting and breathing; however, especially in the early stages, one struggles with the body’s resistance, and until you are aware that this is part of the process, you may not fully enjoy its benefits.

Now, the good meditator benefits greatly for several reasons. Meditating helps to:

  • Reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Improve concentration capacity and attentional domain.
  • It allows you to sleep better.
  • It helps to get to know yourself better and find inner peace.
  • Promote empathy and improve social relationships.
  • Increases pain tolerance.
  • Increase memory and learning.
  • Promotes positive and optimistic thinking.

You can know these benefits in detail in our article: ” Benefits of meditation backed by science “

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