Did you know that simply sitting and breathing mindfully can significantly change the brain?
Meditation leads to greater mental clarity, lower levels of stress and nurtures the parts of the brain that contribute to well-being and happiness. A regular meditation practice allows us to remain attuned to the present moment without judgement and to observe sensations and emotions that arise in the mind-stream without necessarily identifying with them. And studies are now showing how meditation produces physiological changes in the brain as well…
In an interview in the Washington Post, Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar explained how the regions of meditators’ brains associated with healthy brain function become more active, while one of the areas associated with stress actually shrinks.
The left hippocampus is the area in the brain that helps us to learn. The tools that we use for cognitive ability and memory are found here, as are emotional regulators associated with self-awareness and empathy. Research confirms that as the cortical thickness of the hippocampus grows in volume through meditation, gray-matter density increases and all of these important functions are nurtured.
Meditation also strengthens the pons, the part of the brain where many of the neurotransmitters that help regulate brain activity are produced. It is located in the middle of the brain stem. The pons is involved in a number of essential functions, including sleep, facial expressions, processing sensory input, and basic physical functioning.
The Temporo Parietal Junction (TPJ) is associated with empathy and compassion as well as our sense of perspective. We might say that the posterior cingulate focuses on “me” while the TPJ shines a light on everything else. The TPJ becomes more active when we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. A stronger TPJ—combined with other benefits of meditation such as lowered stress and increased present moment awareness—can help us be the good people we aspire to become.
Finally, there is another area of the brain that is transformed through meditation: the amygdala. But it doesn’t get larger; it actually shrinks! The amygdala produces feelings of anxiety, fear and general stress. The smaller it is, the less apt it is to dictate our emotional responses, especially those of the “fight-or-flight” response. It's no wonder that we feel so great when daily meditation is incorporated into our lives.
Consistency is key when it comes to benefitting from the results of meditation. Choose a technique that resonates with you and practice it daily. Start with a few minutes and let is grow as you let go.
Simply Sitting and Breathing Mindfully
by Jill Palmer