Meditation: Where Your Mind Finds Rest

Meditation: Where Your Mind Finds Rest

Meditating to relax and release stress is a custom that is growing in popularity by the minute. This is largely due to the well-known benefits it offers for mental health.

Conscious meditation, mindfulness or mindfulness, however, is the form of meditation that gets the most attention. The benefits that this form of meditation offers go much further than just letting go of stress. Mindfulness can not only help to alleviate psychological problems, but can also alleviate physical problems such as hypertension, chronic pain, psoriasis, insomnia, anxiety and depression. This form of meditation has also been proven to boost the immune system and help us avoid the habit of compulsive eating.

However, in addition to all of this, meditation, especially mindful meditation or mindfulness, has also been shown to help improve brain function.

Meditation and brain function

A new study conducted by the University of California  states that one effect of focusing and reorienting your mind is an increase in cerebral connectivity.

Researchers compared brain activity in volunteers who had performed stress reduction exercises based entirely on mindfulness for eight weeks to brain activity in people who had not done any of these exercises at all.

The MRI scans showed that the people who did the exercises had stronger connections in several parts of their brains, especially in parts of the brain that are linked to attention and audio-visual processes.

Brain

In a somewhat later study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital, researchers used MRI images to record before-and-after changes in the brain’s gray matter. These researchers found that meditation can help to literally reshape your brain, in the sense that the brain grows significantly and all functions improve.

The researchers looked at changes in cerebral volume in five brain regions of people who took part in the study. In the people who practiced meditation, growth was observed in four parts of the brain.

  • The largest difference was observed in the posterior cingulate cortex. This is the part of the brain where our imagination and sense of self are located.
  • They also discovered differences in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that supports our learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation.
  • The temporal parietal lobe, which is associated with forming perspectives, empathy and compassion, was also increased in these people.
  • Finally, changes were observed in the pons (brainstem bridge), a part of the brainstem where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced.

The researchers were also able to see that changes had taken place in the amygdala, the part of the brain that responds when we find ourselves in emergency situations. This part of the brain is important and relevant to anxiety, nerves and stress. In the people who did participate in the mindfulness-based stress reduction program, the amygdala had clearly decreased in size. This change in the amygdala was also linked to the significant reduction in these people’s stress levels.

Meditation

Meditation and Genetic Changes

At present, scientists are speculating about the link between those cerebral changes and the health benefits associated with mindfulness or mindful meditation. However, these studies add to the mounting evidence that meditation can fundamentally change the body, even on a genetic level.

Scientists are currently studying how relaxation exercises (such as mindfulness and yoga) can transform genetic bonds in people who practice these exercises regularly. They are particularly interested in studying possible changes in the parts of the genes that determine how the body deals with free radicals, inflammatory processes and cellular health.

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