How Our Brain Works During Mindfulness Meditation

How Our Brain Works During Mindfulness Meditation

The process of meditation is being constantly researched by the scientific community. Especially, when it comes to mindfulness meditation, more and more people around the world are trying some form of this stress-busting exercise and researchers on the other hand, are continuously exploring its outstanding effects on the brain.

Until recently, little was known about how few hours of quiet meditation can render fascinating range of physical and mental effects. Now as mindfulness meditation is becoming popular, the experts using brain imaging techniques reveal that mindfulness which our forefathers practice can deeply change the way various region of the brain communicate with each other.

Recent research by neuroscientist Richie Davidson, Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison reveals pretty interesting things such as:

  • We can train our brain
  • The change is measurable
  • New methods of thinking can make it better

Though it’s hard to believe how this could be possible, but as through constant practicing we can learn to play piano, the same training for brain can help us nurture our well-being and happiness. According to the research, the brain keeps on changing in its entire lifespan. Based on this study, there are four ways our brain might change through mindfulness meditation. Even 30 minutes of meditating daily can lead to numerous changes in the brain which can be traced on an imaging device as well.

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1. Increased grey matter/cortical thickness in following areas

  1. Anterior Cingulate Cortex – This is a structure located behind the frontal lobe of the brain. This part of the brain is related to functions such as ability to monitor attention conflicts, self-regulatory processes and more flexibility in cognition.
  2. Prefrontal Cortex – The increase in the grey matter was also found in this area of the brain which performs executive functions such as problem solving, planning and regulation of emotions.
  3. Hippocampus – Improvement in the grey matter was also noted in this part of the brain. Hippocampus is the part of limbic system that plays a central role in formation of memories. Hippocampus is prone to stress and stress related disorders such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

2. Decrease in the size of Amygdala

Various studies and MRI scans have shown that practicing mindfulness for 8 weeks, amygdala, the brain’s region associated with fear and anxious emotions, appears to shrink.

3. Decrease or enhanced functionality in some networks

Apart from amygdala shrinking after mindfulness, the connection between the amygdala and pre-frontal cortex also becomes weaker. This leads to less reactivity while connections between areas related to concentration and attention strengthens.

4. Reduction in activity of the brain’s ‘Me Center’

Several studies in the last few years also supports this claim. Me Center is the part of the brain that constantly references your experiences and perspective back to you. Me center is referred to as default mode network (DMN), it’s the brain’s network responsible for mind-wandering thoughts, also known as ‘Monkey Minds’. This mode is active when we are not thinking anything. Researches have shown that meditation has quieting effect on this network.

Meditation is certainly not a panacea, but there is abundance of evidence suggesting that it does well to your mind and body. Mindfulness is certainly beneficial and not harmful. Rather turning on the phones in the morning, spare a few minutes to quiet down your mind.

Glossary

Grey Matter - Greyish nervous tissue containing cell bodies as well as fibers
Frontal lobe - Part of the cerebral cortex in either hemisphere of the brain lying directly behind the forehead