The Magic of Meditation: How Meditation Can Change Your Brain

Aren’t we all in the constant need to keep up with the 21st-century pace of life? And sometimes, we also do this quite literally – walking fast, talking fast, and basically doing anything in faster than it should be. When you notice that you have been doing this every minute of every day of your life, then you need to stop for a minute or two and breathe. Inhale. Exhale.

Don’t pull your hair out because of how fast everything is. The pace of life is always moving forward, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a break and pause. All you need to do is just sit, breathe, and meditate.

History

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The history of meditation and the religious context behind it is inseparable. The emergence of this practice was to “meditate on that desirable light of the divine Savitri, who influences our pious rites" as written in one of the earliest references of meditation in Hindu Vedas. Over time, other forms of meditation had started to develop via Confucianism and Taoism in China as well as Hinduism, Jainism, and early Buddhism in Nepal and India.

In Indian Buddhism, meditation was considered to be a step towards liberation. It started to spread in China, Vietnam, and Korea, where the meditation they taught pointed towards inner tranquility and emphasized self-control, peace, Buddha-natured insights, and the personal expressions of these ideas mainly for the benefit of others. Buddhist meditation is connected with the religion and philosophy of Buddhism, and their pursuit towards enlightenment and nirvana - a transcendent state in which there is freedom from all forms of suffering and existence. It aims to develop mindfulness, concentration, supra-mundane powers, tranquility, and insight to remove unwholesome qualities that they consider to be hindrances in achieving their goal.

 


How Does Meditation Help You?

Meditation has been known to help reduce stress, and give a greater capacity of relaxation to those who practice it. Whenever we feel pressured or threatened, our body responds to it physically, emotionally, mentally, and sometimes, all together at once. Stress causes a disturbance in the natural homeostasis, or inner physiological balance, of our bodies. It results in the activation of the "fight-or-flight" response which causes the adrenaline rush that we often experience. This is what causes an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and blood flow to the muscles, and is due to the release of the hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine. Meditation creates an opposite reaction to the rush, and that puts the mind and body in a state of relaxation, in which the increased blood pressure, pulse rates, and blood flow decreases.

Another thing associated with the practice of meditation is to improve one’s concentration. A study by Italian neuroscientist Giuseppe Pagnoni found that meditation not only changes brain patterns, but it also improves mental focus and performance. In his study, he performed an MRI to his respondents of the same age and educational level but categorized into two groups as non-meditator and meditators. It was found that the meditators had more stability in their ventral posteromedial cortex which is a region linked to spontaneous thoughts and mind-wandering located on the underside of the brain in the middle of the head.

Those aren't the only benefits of meditation -  it also helps in reducing the chances of developing depression and anxiety. An articles in JAMA Internal Medicine analyzed 47 studies in which the findings showed that meditation does help in managing pain, depression, and anxiety. More and more people are practicing meditation to correct health issues, and meditation classes are even offered in schools and hospitals because of its effectiveness. The focus of mindfulness meditation is to train the brain to focus only on the moment, which is why the mediator is encouraged to think of nothing but his or her breathing and repeat a mantra or listen to certain music. The aim is to let go of the regrets of the past as well as anxieties about the future to achieve a fully relaxed mind. The findings of a study by Italian neuroscientist Giuseppe Pagnoni show that the ventral posteromedial cortex is responsible for the wandering of the mind which is why meditation is undoing depression, a condition characterized by recurring negative thoughts. By stabilizing the ventral posteromedial cortex, it keeps the mind from wandering around to thoughts that cause negativity and keeps one's spirit positive. Again, inhale. And exhale.

Meditation is food for the soul. It nourishes our minds and values qualities like compassion, responsibility, and peacefulness. It helps us in making and keeping better relationships with others and most especially ourselves. The calmness and tranquillity we get from the experience gives us a sense of comfort and stability, allowing us to focus on the positive things in life, and develop a resilience toward the negativity that we encounter on daily basis. Meditation is not merely an activity for relaxation; it’s the world’s greatest therapist.


Sources:

  • https://www.artofliving.org/meditation
  • https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/you-illuminated/201204/brain-scans-show-how-meditation-improves-mental-focus
  • http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2014/01/07/260470831/mindfulness-meditation-can-help-relieve-anxiety-and-depression
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_meditation