When it comes to health and mental well-being, meditation has become an integral part of it. Its benefits are undisputed and a large number of people from almost all walks of life practice meditation of some form or the other. So, how does meditation help us and how can we conclusively say that it has a calming effect on our brain? In recent decades, there have been a lot of research and studies over the impact of meditation on brain. The extensive research and brain images have shown that brain undergoes structural and functional changes based on one’s experiences — anxiety, stress, happiness, bliss, ecstasy etc. This ability of the brain to change and rewire itself in response to various stimulations and experiences is referred as neuroplasticity.
Your brain has an amazing quality of adapting to external stimuli and surroundings and our events, exposure and activities continue to literally shape our brain as the time goes. Structurally also the brain may expand and shrink depending on several factors.
There are constant conversations going on among neurons and they keep record of all our actions whether we do it consciously or unconsciously.
All of us have our past memories, experience of the present times and ideas about future. Our brain works factoring all these and many more at subtle level. The neuroplasticity has provided great insight into brain functions. It has proved the multiple benefits meditation brings be it lifting mood, enhancing focus and improving the quality of thoughts.
Studies have shown that regular practice of meditation induces neuroplasticity phenomena thus slowing down degeneration of brain. It improves attention, memory and alertness.
So, what happens in the brain when we mediate?
For most of our waking times, we keep sensing things. We see things, hear sounds, perceive and observe things and as a result our brain is active and constantly analysing them. During meditation we close our eyes and sit still or lie down thus stopping external stimuli to a great extent. As a result, brain is less active during meditation.
During meditation we bring our attention to breathing or any other focal point. In the process we develop mindfulness and awareness. It is a proven fact now that the levels of hormones like dopamine and serotonin go up during meditation. In those people who practice meditation regularly, there is higher level of such chemicals.
It has been seen that meditation affects two main pathway changes in the brain. The part of the brain that is more involved in rumination and anxiety becomes less active during meditation. On the other hand, the part of the brain called insula which is responsible for awareness and mindfulness becomes more active. The combined effect of this is that a regular meditator finds himself more at ease and calm. Such person is filled more with positive thoughts and emotions, and better prepared to handle an adverse situation.
Yoga can change your brain
Brain is an extremely complex organ of the body. Consisting of nearly 100 billion neurons it is the main command centre and works amazingly.
In his book “Mindsight”, Daniel J. Siegel says, “One of the key practical lessons of modern neuroscience is that the power to direct our attention has within it the power to shape our brain’s firing patterns, as well as the power to shape the architecture of the brain itself.”
Yogic postures combined with meditation practice are among the key tools to retain healthy brain cells and prevent deterioration of it. Yoga can help increase your brain cells that are located in various folds of your brain. This can help ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and memory problems as you age. On the other hand, not engaging your brain can lead to reduction in number of brain cells and your memory and other cognitive functions may see a decline.
Different asanas and practices of Yoga can enhance brain health. Meditation is one of the ways to effectively mould your cognitive functions. As you slow your breathing and focus your attention on it, your brain shifts to parasympathetic network and gets into rest and digest mode. This can help it connect to various neural networks that are otherwise not accessed by the stressed brain which is in fight and flight mode. This can increase functions of prefrontal cortex like cognition, self-awareness, attention, and memory. Mindfulness meditation, guided meditation, mantra meditation, Tratak are some of the popular ways of meditation people can try. You can try all of them and choose the one that suits you the most for regular practice.
The practice of meditation has evidently reduced age-related degeneration in brain. It improves cognitive functions and bring long-lasting positive changes. Meditation brings emotional stability, makes us more compassionate and helps develop longer attention span.