We have known for thousands of years that meditation is beneficial to how we experience life. Now modern science is helping us fill in the gaps.
While understanding that meditation has the ability to enhance our state of mind by connecting us to a deeper aspect of our self, here is a closer look at how meditation changes the brain from a more scientific standpoint.
Meditation Delays Aging
Not only is meditation a perfect link between the mind body connection and our natural relaxation process; meditation as a practice has been found to carry some serious benefits when it comes to aging.
In a study conducted by UCLA it was found that long-term meditators had brains that were more resistant to long-term aging. Those who had been meditating for 20 years or more had greater gray matter volume as well.
Gray matter is cell tissue containing neurons which are essential to the central nervous system. This promotes a healthy communication between the brain and the cells of the body. The brain is composed mostly of gray matter, which is why this tissue is also associated with intelligence.
The older participants still had more signs of aging than the younger ones, but far less pronounced than non-meditators.
Reduces Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety
When it comes to treating illness, both physical and psychological, modern medicine is very mechanical — treating the body like a machine rather than an organism. When imbalance is detected within the body there is usually a pill that can quickly be prescribed, almost by the book.
Both depression and anxiety are treated by anti-depressants that balance out hormones in the brain. This stabilizes mood and promotes positive thinking by increasing levels of dopamine and endorphin, but this can also have harmful side-effects.
Our body is very capable of producing these chemicals naturally, and when we are bringing synthetic compounds into our system, this only further disrupts the natural process instead of promoting it.
A study at Johns Hopkins university showed that meditation was equally as effective as antidepressant usage, both producing the same effectiveness rating of .03. In relation to the mind body connection, meditation provides a space for the body’s natural healing system to take effect, which in turn will create an environment for the neurological chemical responses to regain balance.
The body is always trying to accomplish this, but when our minds are filled with tons of distortion, we are obstructing the pathways because the body is too busy responding to stress than it is rejuvenating itself. Meditation is the perfect gateway to this function. This all-natural method is far healthier and produces equal results.
Meditation Positively Changes Brain Structure
A team of researchers at Harvard University found that mindfulness meditation changed the structure of the brain. An 8 week session of mindfulness meditation increased cortical thickness in the hippocampus — the area of the brain that governs memory and learning.
There was also a decrease in cells in the amygdala — the area responsible for overcharged emotional reactions such as fear and anxiety. At the end of the study, the participants said there was marked improvement in how they felt.
The amygdala is our flight and flight response and the reason why we feel fear so strongly in our life is because this is the first part of the brain in that came into existence – at one point, the only brain we had.
This brain protected us when times were primitive. It is for this reason that this older and more developed part of our brain is so capable of overriding our more recently developed cortex where we harness creativity, compassion, and emotion, among many more incredibly undervalued aspects of the human makeup.
The amazing fact that meditation actually weakens this part of the brain indicates our inner desire to access the potential of the more unique parts of our creative mind. It is from this part of the brain that we are able to rise above fear and execute on ideas towards a fulfilled life.
We have known for millennia that meditation has positive effects, but these studies finally shed light on some of the scientific nature of how this affects us. Meditation changes the structure of the brain, and sessions of brain training can change your mood, thinking, and outlook, as well as the physical nature of your mind.
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