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How Meditation Changes the Brain: 5 Reasons to Start Today

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Meditation has been around a long, long time, mentioned in ancient texts dating back as far as 1500 BC in India. Although it began as a religious practice, meditation has since departed from strictly prayer and become a modern tool for greater wellness. With recent advances in medical imaging of brain activity, we now have plenty of scientific evidence to back up the idea of meditation as medicine. From increasing grey matter to improving mood and energy, and reducing pain, meditation is a practice that can make a difference in your quality of life.

  1. Age Slower. In 2017, Harvard reported that just eight weeks of a daily meditation regimen changes the way your brain responds to cellular changes. With a daily practice averaging 27 minutes, participants saw significant changes in gene activity. Blood was drawn before, directly after, and 15 minutes after meditation was complete. Across the board, all participants had less activity within the genes associated with how the body handles free radicals, inflammatory processes, and the death and degeneration of cells. Basically, your mind slows down how fast your cells break down.
  2. Feel Less Stress. Scientific American reports that MRI scans show a shrinking of the amygdala, the brain's fear center, in people who regularly practice meditation. As it shrinks, the prefrontal cortex grows, increasing the mind's awareness and concentration, and it disconnects from the amygdala. The combination of these changes improves your instinct to think before you react, because your "fight or flight" response is curbed.
  3. Give Mental Health a Boost. A study by John Hopkins reviewed the results of 47 trials with over 3,000 participants and found that meditation can reduce the hormones that cause anxiety and depression. Mindfulness meditation showed the greatest impact in as little as 8 weeks. With consistent practice, the effects increase over time. While it may not replace your prescription just yet, just 15 minutes of meditation each day can reduce depression and anxiety symptoms and improve the function of any medication you're taking for them.
  4. Reduce the Physical Feeling of Pain. Meditation has been proven to decrease the mental recognition of pain. By greatly reducing the connection between the prefrontal cortex and the part of the brain that recognizes pain, we feel less pain. That isn't to say the pain isn't there, just that we react to it less because our brains give those signals less attention.
  5. Sharpen Mental Focus. Focus is one of the hardest things to maintain when your mind wants to wander. Meditation can help with that in just a couple of weeks. Studies have shown that students received better scores on their GRE — as much as 16 points better — after practicing mindfulness meditation for two weeks. Meditation reduces the occurrence of distracting thoughts, which gives you better focus on the task at hand.

Mindfulness meditation has long been honored as the easiest way to improve your mental state. Now, science backs that up. So, challenge yourself to meditate for just 15 minutes each day for two weeks, and see for yourself what kind of difference it makes in your life.