Meditation certainly isn’t new, but this millennia-old practice is definitely becoming trendier in the Western world. And though some of its benefits are hard or even impossible to measure, researchers keep studying what exactly happens to the brain during meditation. Thanks to these pioneers, today we have a much better understanding of what meditation does, at least on a neurological level.
With the help of modern neuroimaging technologies like fMRI, EEG, and spectral analysis, researchers have been able to study changes in the brain morphologies of meditation practitioners as they meditate.
The main insight? A significant decrease in beta wave activity. This means that the brain calms down a bit and stops processing information as actively as it normally does. That probably comes as no surprise, but if you’re curious about the science and what it could mean for you on a practical level, read on…
What Brain Regions Does Meditation Rewire?
Okay, so what exactly happens to your brain? A meta-analysis of 21 neuroimaging studies has found that at least eight different brain regions are consistently altered by meditation:
- Frontal lobe. The part of the brain that controls most important cognitive skills, including speaking, problem-solving, and judgment.
- Temporal lobe. Most of the changes in this region happen to the hippocampus, a structure involved in emotional responses and memory formation.
- Parietal lobe. This part of the brain slows down significantly during meditation, thereby affecting how sensory information is processed.
- Thalamus. The thalamus, responsible for selective focus and attention, plays a significant role in sensory perception.
- Reticular formation. Located in the very center of the brain stem, this structure receives incoming stimuli and plays a central role in a state of alertness and arousal.
- Sensory cortex and insular cortex. Two areas responsible for processing tactile information and general body awareness.
- Cingulate cortex. An integral part of the limbic system, involved in emotion-related activity, learning, and memory.
- Superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF) and corpus callosum. These areas of white matter play a big role in communication within and between the left and right brain hemispheres.
A bit of a mouthful, right? Ultimately, the brain exhibits observed improvements in thickness and cortical surface area fiber density. But what exactly do these changes to the brain and its activity mean? Well, this is the part that can’t really be studied using neuroimaging, but the beneficial effects on day-to-day performance is noticeable…
How Can Meditation Benefit You?
Based on what’s known about the role of affected brain regions, and on various tests performed on meditation practitioners and their experiences, here’s a pretty compelling list of why you might consider taking up your own meditation practice:
#1. Less anxiety
During meditation, certain neural connections are weakened, meaning you won’t react as strongly to certain emotional stimuli. Furthermore, the parts of the brain responsible for reasoning aren’t influenced as strongly by the fear centers. This makes it easier to respond rationally instead of react explosively to circumstances that would normally trigger an emotional outburst.
#2. Faster learning and better memory
Meditation will help you better filter out distractions. Certain brain wave changes will help you think and learn faster, remember better, and be more productive.
#3. Increased creativity
Human creativity isn’t always easy to study objectively, but meditation is assuredly known to improve this as well. There’s evidence that open-monitoring meditation leads to improvement in creativity as measured by tests that involve innovating with unorthodox ideas.
#4. Improved focus
It’s said that focused attention is akin to a muscle that can be trained and strengthened through exercise. Consciously trying to prevent your focus and attention from drifting away is an important part of meditation. There’s evidence that practicing focused-attention meditation helps improve overall focus, extending the benefits of this practice to our daily lives.
Want to Approach Nirvana? Give Meditation a Try!
So give it a go — there’s no harm in trying! Numerous meditation techniques exist, such as mindfulness meditation, mantra meditation, movement meditation, and much more. Just do some research, try out a few, and see what works for you.