Close your eyes. Breathe in deep. Feel your toes. Wiggle them. Breathe Out. Feel how heavy your toes are. Repeat.
Congratulations! You’ve just completed a very short exercise in mindful meditation. The practise of mindful meditation goes back with the origin of Buddhism. Today it has made its way into mainstream counselling and medication practise. Meditation is slowly creeping out of its hippy repetition and has now become a recommended antidote for both physical and mental issues.
But how? How does practising meditation actually effect your brain? I’ve done some research, found some studies and have strung them together so you can have a better understanding of how practising meditation changes your brain. Turns out it’s not a placebo effect, the changes are real, and here they are.
Mindful Meditation Preserves Your Brain From Aging
This doesn’t mean when you’re 50 you’ll have the brain of a 20 year old. But a study from UCLA discovered that those who have practised meditation, averaging at 20 years between them, had more grey matter than those who did not meditate.
Although older-meditators still had some volume loss in grey matter compared to the younger meditators, it wasn’t as much as a significant loss as non-meditators. “We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating,” said study author Florian Kurth. “Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.”
Meditation Reduces Activity in the Brain’s “Me Center”
We can all be accused of day-dreaming from time to time, right? This mind-wandering action is actually called -‘DMN’ (Default Mode Network) or a.k.a “monkey mind”. This the is brain network responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts.
But when does DMN affect us? Basically, DMN is “on” when we’re not thinking about anything specifically, we’re just going from thought to thought. This mind-wandering is often associated with worrying about problems, thinking negatively about one’s self which can lead to feeling overwhelmed. Meditation offers a time-out from mind-wandering, but the practice also improves focus. So when your mind does wander, you are able to snap yourself back to reality quicker.
Practising Meditation Can Act As A Natural Remedy for Depression
Last year at John Hopkins University looked at the connection between mindful meditation and its ability to reduce symptoms of mental issues such as depression and anxiety. Researcher Madhav Goyal was quoted saying “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing,”. “But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.”
Madhav Goyal and his team discovered that meditation has a moderate effect on these issues. The result stands at a 0.3 effect. Before you think this sounds really low, remember antidepressants have an equal effect of 0.3. The is no definite cure for depression, but using mindful meditation as a natural remedy for depression can work as a medicine.
It Also Works Well for Anxiety Relief
One of the main reasons people meditate is because of its effectiveness in stress-reduction. Many people believe this to be an placebo effect of meditation, but there’s plenty of scientific evidence to back this up! A whole new sub-genre of meditation called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was developed by professor Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts’ Center for Mindfulness. MBSR aims to reduce an individual’s stress level, both physically and mentally.
Studies have seen that the benefits in reducing anxiety, even years after the 8-week-course provided by the center. Further research has shown that mindful meditation, doesn’t just reduce anxiety by breathing exercise, but it effects the DMN also. Remember earlier when we spoke about mind-wandering? Well mindful meditation helps reduce your mind from wandering into negative thoughts, thus reducing anxiety.
Now I hope you believe that mindful meditation isn’t just a placebo effect, but a powerful natural remedy for mental and physical issues. Now go forth and meditate! Boost your mood, improve your focus and be happiest you can be. Until next time, happy meditating from everyone at Meditation Relax Club.