Many people find meditation to be frustrating or pointless, yet when they really delve into the practice, they find it incredibly helpful for their happiness and peace of mind! The world of meditation is unknown to many and people tend to not fully understand how or why people choose to meditate. We’ve laid out some great info to help you get a grasp on what mediation is all about, and how it can help your overall health and wellness.
What is meditation?
Because meditation is very personal, there are tons of different ways you can choose to meditate, you just have to find what works best for you. There are a couple that are usually focused on heavily in scientific research, though. These are focused-attention, or mindful meditation, which is where you focus on one specific thing—it could be your breathing, a sensation in your body or a particular object outside of you. The point of this type of meditation is to focus strongly on one point and continually bring your attention back to that focal point when it wanders.
The other type of meditation that’s often used in research is open-monitoring meditation. This is where you pay attention to all of the things happening around you—you simply notice everything without reacting.
What happens in your brain when you meditate?
Essentially, when you meditate, your brain stops processing information as quickly and actively as it normally would. Scientists have been able to study this using brain scans that show a significant drop in brain activity, even after just 20-seconds. Now why would we want our brain to stop working at it’s normal speed? It allows us to take a deep breath and focus on the present moment, accepting whatever circumstance or emotions that may be surrounding us.
This image shows us what our brains may look like before and after meditation:
Here is what is taking place in your brain during meditation:
This is the most highly evolved part of the brain, responsible for reasoning, planning, emotions and self-conscious awareness. During meditation, the frontal cortex tends to go offline.
This part of the brain processes sensory information about the surrounding world, orienting you in time and space. During meditation, activity in the parietal lobe slows down.
The gatekeeper for the senses, this organ focuses your attention by funneling some sensory data deeper into the brain and stopping other signals in their tracks. Meditation reduces the flow of incoming information to a trickle.
As the brain’s sentry, this structure receives incoming stimuli and puts the brain on alert, ready to respond. Meditating dials back the arousal signal.
How does meditation affect us?
Now that you have an idea of what meditation is exactly, why would you want to partake? There are so many amazing ways meditation helps our mind, body, and soul.
- During meditation, we practice focusing our attention and recognizing when our focus drifts off. By doing so, we are essentially training our brains on how to focus better, thus improving our focus even when we aren’t meditating.
- This one is a little tricky and may sound a bit crazy, but it is actually quite astonishing! The more we meditate, the less anxiety we have, and it turns out this is because we’re actually loosening the connections of particular neural pathways. The prefrontal cortex (Me Center) of our brain processes all the info about ourselves and our experiences. Normally the neural pathways from the bodily sensation and fear centers of the brain to the Me Center are really strong so when something happens that instills fear or scares us, there is a strong reaction in your Me Center aka anxiety and stress. By meditating, we loosen these neural connection while strengthening the connection related to reasoning. Therefore, our bodies can react more rationally and less fearfully to situations, lowering our overall level of anxiety. Complicated and scientific, we know. Just remember, more meditation = less stress!
- Meditation can even boost your creativity! A study conducted by researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands, found that those who practice open-monitoring mediation, performed better on a task where they were asked to come up with new ideas.
- More meditation means more love. Tons of studies have been done that show that people who practice mediation regularly are more empathetic and compassionate than those who do not. One study showed participants were bale to focus their attention and reduce their emotional reaction to images of people who were good, bad, or neutral, whether they were meditating or not. This, as well as an increase in empathy and compassion, is linked to the decreased activity in the amygdala during meditation, the part of the brain that processes emotional stimuli.
- Mediation has also been linked to an improvement in memory. It has been found that those who practice meditation can more easily screen out distractions, therefore increasing their productivity. Researcher Catherine Kerr of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging said that being able to ignore distractions leads to “their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts.”
These are just some of the amazing ways that meditation can have a positive impact on us. Take this information and go out and find your way to meditate. Do some research of your own! Are you the type of person who listens to audio to meditate? Would you rather sit on top of a hill and take in the sights while you meditate? Do you want to keep it simple and sit o your living room floor? You can start off slow, only two minutes of meditation a day can make a huge difference over time! We are definitely going to make room for meditation in our schedules!