How Meditation Changes Your Brain

Sara Chille
How Meditation Changes Your Brain

Meditation is a mindfulness technique that is generally practiced to lower feelings of stress and promote calmness and relaxation. It actively trains your brain to enhance awareness and connect with your body on a deeper level. Much like we go to the gym to strengthen our body muscles, meditation helps to strengthen our brain. It does this by reinforcing neural connections and pathways allowing the brain to work and communicate with different areas more efficiently. This can result in healthy aging of the brain, ease mental stress, and contributes to sharper focus. If you want to learn more about how meditation changes your brain, keep reading!

During meditation, you actively draw your attention inward and relax your focus on your breath. Habitually practicing meditation significantly benefits, not only the brain, but your emotional and physical well-being by reducing anxiety and depression, lowering blood pressure, improving sleep, and so much more. There are many different types of meditation you can practice. It can be done sitting, lying down, or in whatever position is most comfortable for you. Once you are in a relaxed position, close your eyes and notice your breath moving in and out of your body. Then, if you notice your mind has wandered with other thoughts, gently draw your attention back to your breath.

Be kind to yourself and don’t get discouraged if your mind wanders frequently. That is part of it. You may notice your heart rate lowering, and your body becomes less tense. Stay here as long as you would like. 

Benefits of Meditation

Better Brain Health 

A study conducted on a group of elderly individuals participating in an 8-week mindfulness and stress reduction program showed increased blood flow to their brains once the program was complete compared to the beginning of the program. Steady blood flow to the brain is crucial to deliver essential nutrients and oxygen that it needs to survive, as well as rid it of unwanted waste that it doesn’t need.

Doing this, ultimately improves the function and overall health of the brain. The study also showed that the different areas of the brain work more efficiently with one another after the program is complete. Both of which typically naturally decline with aging. As we age, our brains are less likely to form new connections and decline in neuro-plasticity, leading to chronic conditions like Alzheimer’s.

The program consisted of various types of mindfulness practices such as sitting meditation, body scan meditation, yoga, walking meditation, and loving-kindness mediation. All of which had a positive effect on brain health. 

Reduces Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety

Reducing stress and feelings associated with depression and anxiety is one of the main reasons why people decide to practice meditation. Stress is inevitable and learning how to manage it helps us become more resilient to future stressors and helps rewire our brains. Meditation can help bring your body into a parasympathetic state by promoting deep relaxation. When you practice mindfulness you actively lower cortisol levels by bringing your attention inward and reducing your focus on cluttered thoughts. The more you meditate the stronger your neural pathways become increasing your resilience to future stressful situations. 

Improved Sleep

About 70% of Americans have difficulty sleeping each night. We know that sleep is paramount to our health and well-being, yet so many of us are not getting adequate sleep to feel and perform at our best. This is a huge problem and something that we must actively work on to improve our quality of life. One simple action we can add to your bedtime routine is, you guessed it! Meditation. Meditation can help lower cortisol levels, settle racing thoughts, and relax your body so you can drift off into a restful sleep. Mindfulness-based meditation programs have been shown to improve insomnia and help with falling asleep quicker and staying asleep longer. Meditation is so powerful for the mind and body and can greatly benefit your night’s sleep. 

Lengthens Attention Span and Focus 

Habitual meditation has been shown to thicken the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. This area is responsible for concentration, awareness, and decision-making. Studies show meditation can offset age-related cognitive decline as well as increase cognitive functions like memory, attention, and alertness. Another study showed those who meditated had a greater attention span, even in the presence of several distractors than those who didn’t meditate, as well as performed better on certain tasks.

 You can maintain and even strengthen the pre-frontal cortex through consistent mindfulness practices like meditation by increasing the presence of gray matter in the brain and ultimately maintaining its health. Every time you meditate, you are intentionally redirecting your focus back to the present moment.

Despite thoughts constantly coming in, you are training your brain to not entertain and focus on them. This repetitive redirection of concentration significantly strengthens your ability to focus on important tasks and makes it easier to maintain attention over time. 

Regulates Emotional Responses 

Mindfulness meditation can positively regulate mood and emotions. Not only does actively meditating generate positive emotions instantaneously, but it strengthens areas in our brains that process them. This study looked at how long and short-term meditation affects the amygdala. The amygdala is located in the brain and is involved in processing emotions, memory, and mood. The study showed that both long and short-term meditation training improves the regulation of emotions and behavioral responses by reducing the activity of amygdala responses in the brain. 

Loving-Kindness Meditation

Loving-kindness meditation is a type of mindfulness practice that intentionally helps to generate positive feelings and emotions. It involves silently repeating compassionate and joyful mantras to yourself such as these:

  • May I be happy
  • May I be peaceful
  • May I find deep joy
  • May I feel safe 

Find what mantra resonates with you at that moment. Repeat them 3-5 times slowly and deliberately. Do not rush through them. If you notice your mind wander to intrusive thoughts, gently bring your attention back to your mantra. 

This is a way to cultivate kindness within ourselves that we can spread to others. Saying kind words of affirmation to yourself changes your thoughts and self-talk to become more positive. This positive mindset changes your brain chemistry to generate endorphins and serotonin - our feel-good hormones. It also works by silencing our overwhelming thoughts and clearing our minds to be filled with more joy and compassion. 

Other Resources

If you’re just beginning, guided meditation is a great place to start. There are great apps that you can download on your phone and set reminders for daily practice. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Waking up
  • Headspace
  • Calm
  • Buddify
  • Breathwrk
  • Ten Percent Happier Meditation 

Start Meditating Today!

Whether you commit to regularly practicing meditation on a daily basis or participate in a short 5-minute guided practice, you will instantly feel its positive outcomes. In a world that craves instant gratification, meditation may just be what you need. Start by dedicating 1-minute of your day to sitting silently with your eyes closed while taking deep, meaningful breaths. Watch how one minute can transform your mind and body into a more relaxed, positive state. If you like, increase your practice to 2-minutes, 3-minutes, 10-minutes and so on. The more frequently you practice the more powerful influence meditation will have on your body and mind.