The Neuroscience Of Meditation

In the modern world more often than not, meditation is attached to stereotypical stigmas instead of its actual neurological benefits. 

Nonetheless, the ideal way to distinguish a stigma from a fact is through inquisitive, relentless research leading to definitive knowledge ;

And in definitive, science-based knowledge we can find secure solace. 

Mindfulness meditation has received the most attention in Neuroscience research over the past two decades. Behavioral studies suggest that mindfulness meditation provides beneficial effects on a number of cognitive constitutions, including attention, memory, executive function, and cognitive flexibility. These effects have been discovered in several brain regions, such as the cerebral cortex, subcortical gray and white matter, brainstem and cerebellum. Ultimately, improving brain function. 

What is exactly mindfulness meditation ?

In mindfulness meditation, the practitioner pays attention to their thoughts as they pass through their mind. They don’t judge the thoughts or become involved with them. They simply observe and take note of any patterns.

This practice combines concentration with awareness. You may find it helpful to focus on an object (could be nature-gazing) or your breath while you observe any bodily sensations, thoughts, or feelings.

This type of meditation is good for people who don’t have a teacher to guide them, as it can be easily practiced alone.

The neuroscientific benefits of meditation from numerous studies

  • Hippocampus : a complex brain structure embedded deep into the temporal lobe that has a major role in learning and memory.

In 2011, Sara Lazar and her team at Harvard found that mindfulness meditation can transform the structure of the brain. 

Eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was found to further solidify cortical compactness in the hippocampus, which reigns over learning and memory, and in certain areas of the brain that play roles in emotion regulation and self-referential processing. There were also shrinkage in brain cell number in the amygdala, which is in charge of fear, anxiety, and stress – and these changes matched the participants’ self-monitored reports of their stress levels, indicating that meditation not only changes our brain , but it changes our subjective perception and feelings as well.

  • Alpha Waves : They originate in a brain region called the thalamus,representing one pattern of electrical activity produced by the brain.

That being said, the overall brain is made up of millions of neurons that wield electrical signals to send out information. When groups of neurons fire together in a certain way to send signals to other groups of neurons, the resulting sequences are known as brain waves. These electrical patterns are linked to various ventures in the brain as well as various states of consciousness.

Alpha waves usually happen when we are engaged in activities such as daydreaming, meditating, or practicing mindfulness. Research proposes that this type of brain wave may play a role in reducing symptoms of depression and improving creativity.

Studies have found that meditators tend to have higher levels of Alpha waves, which have been shown to reduce feelings of negative mood, tension, sadness and anger.

The positive impacts of practicing meditation on multiple brain regions and overall cognitive function

  • Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) is a fundamental region for higher order thinking, processing of complex, abstract information, and metacognition. Results in this area showcase that practicing different meditation styles engage, and possibly train, metacognitive awareness.
  • Orbitofrontal Cortex (OFC) is richly connected to emotion, taste, smell and reward in decision making (sensory and limbic system structures). After meditation, there have been consistent reports on enhanced emotional regulation in the form of reduced stress and anxiety.
  • Somatomotor Cortex is the category responsible for detecting sensory information from the body regarding temperature, proprioception, touch, texture, and pain. It has been shown that long-term meditators have higher pain tolerance.

Meditation and improved immune system 

The immune system protects the body from outside invaders. These include germs such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins. Overall, the immune system is made up of different organs, cells, and proteins that combine and cooperate. 

In a study where both meditators and non-meditators were subjected to the flu virus, meditators generated higher antibodies and had increased immune function. 

Meditation and corrected cell function 

Cells shape the body’s structure by taking in nutrients from food and turning them into energy. This process altogether carries out the cellular functions. Additionally, cells contain the body’s hereditary material and can make copies of themselves. 

Researchers found changes on a cellular level in meditators. To recap, our chromosomes have protective protein complexes called telomeres, which help reduce damage to our DNA , lower cell death and shortened telomere length– a shortened telomere has been linked to several diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer–

Amazingly, when cancer survivors completed a meditation program, their bodies showed significant increases in telomere length.

Another type of science-backed meditation 

For those who find mindfulness meditation to be an intense chore. Movement Meditation is an active form of meditation where the movement guides you into a deeper connection with your body, emotions and the present moment.

Movement meditation is good for people who find peace in action and want to develop body awareness. It includes yoga, walking, gardening, Qigong, tai chi , poi dance and general gentle-types of dance and exercise. 

Each of the aforementioned movement practices have been proven to improve mental, emotional and physical health. 


By : Hania Elweleily

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