What if I told you that the best thing you could do for your brain was…nothing? Well, not exactly. By “nothing,” I mean meditation. Despite what many people think about meditation - that it’s “boring” or “nothing,” it actually can make a profound impact on your body and mind. If you’ve ever been curious about the benefits of meditation on the brain, keep reading!
What Are the Benefits of Meditation On The Brain?
- Strengthens the prefrontal cortex
- Increases focus
- Reduces chatter in the “monkey mind” (DMN)
- Improves mood and well-being
- Promotes self-control
- Encourages communication with the parasympathetic nervous system
Strengthens the Prefrontal Cortex
Studies show that meditation can help thicken the prefrontal cortex of the brain, an area associated with sensory, cognitive, and emotional processing. This growth in the brain not only increases our ability to complete tasks today but also reduces aging in the brain. Essentially, meditation can help us stay younger and (mentally) stronger, for a longer period of time!
A lot of people avoid meditation because it’s hard to focus on the present moment and quiet the mind. Those people could use a good ten minutes of meditation! Sitting and listening to a guided meditation is a practice in focus. As you add meditation to your routine and explore different types of meditation, your ability to focus will increase. Distractions will take your mind off of things from time to time, but meditation allows you to reset your focus when you do get distracted.
Reduces Chatter in the “Monkey Mind” (DMN)
Do you ever feel like you’re on autopilot? If you have a similar morning routine, or your job isn’t mentally taxing, you might find yourself on autopilot often. Without a task to focus on, you begin daydreaming, reflecting on the past, or just listening to the “chatter” in your mind.
Monks and meditation lovers might call this the “monkey mind.” Neuroscientists are more likely to call it the DMN, or Default Mode Network.
We build connections in the DMN as we spend time thinking about the past or the future. This isn’t a bad thing, but it can inhibit us when we need to be focused on the present moment. Anyone who has been stuck on autopilot for too long knows that it can cause us to miss what is happening in front of us.
Meditation reduces chatter in the monkey mind. We stop focusing on our problems and start observing what is happening around us. Studies show that meditation is even more effective than focusing on a single task, which is when we need the “monkey mind” to turn off. This is true for various types of meditation, from loving-kindness meditations to focused concentration.
What keeps you from just screaming at the top of your lungs in public or punching a hole through the wall when you’re mad? Self-control, or emotional self-regulation. When you have emotional self-regulation, you can sooner check in with how you’re feeling, recognize negative feelings, and handle them appropriately. People who are in tune with their emotions may be able to see the signs of anxiety, depression, or anger when those experiences are still “on the horizon.”
Guess what? Meditation promotes self-control and emotional self-regulation. Studies show that in as little as five sessions, meditation can make a positive impact on self-regulation. Of course, five sessions won’t change the way you handle your emotions forever! It takes regular practice to make a lifelong change in how you control your behavior and your emotions.
Encourages Communication with the Parasympathetic Nervous System
During meditation, you may begin to consciously focus on your breath. With this focus, you may increase the length of the breath, or at least have more control over the breath. This sends a signal to the brain that you are safe. There is no time to focus on the breath when you’re dealing with stress. The body responds to this relaxed state by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.
Think of the sympathetic nervous system as the system that takes over during “fight or flight” mode, well the parasympathetic nervous system takes over during “rest and digest” mode.
Activating the parasympathetic nervous system results in a lot of changes throughout the body:
- Blood pressure drops
- Digestion continues
- Heart and breathing rates slow down
Overall, the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system can reduce stress, keeping the brain and body healthy. Resting and digesting are actually quite productive!
Improves Mood and Well-Being
When you consider all the benefits of meditation on the brain, it’s no wonder that people who meditate are calm and carefree. Meditation can reduce stress, both in the moment and over time. If you aren’t already convinced to try out a brief five-minute or ten-minute meditation after reading this post, give it a try. See how your mood changes after a few minutes of quieting your mind, breathing deeply, or listening to the soothing sound of a meditation teacher’s voice.
Less stress leads to better well-being, both mental and physical. And this has a huge impact on the brain! Sleep is imperative for brain health, and sleep and stress work in a cycle. The less stress you have, the easier it is to fall asleep. The more sleep you have, the less stress you have. Meditation before bed is a great way to get to sleep faster, reduce stress throughout the day, and live an overall healthier life.
Types of Meditation That Benefit the Brain
Want to meditate, but don’t want to sit still and listen to nothing for an hour? You don’t have to! There are many ways to get into meditation. It’s possible to meditate while sitting down, lying down, or even walking around. As long as you are bringing awareness to the mind and body, you are meditating. Every once and a while, you may find your mind drifting off to the past or the future. That’s normal. The practice of meditation is about bringing your focus back to the present, even when you’ve strayed.
Read about the following practices and see which one calls to you!
Loving-kindness meditation is a type of guided meditation in which practitioners send out loving-kindness to people they love, people they don’t love, all sentient beings, and themselves.
Chakra meditations focus on different energy centers in the body: the third eye, the solar plexus, etc. Some chakra meditations spend time focusing on each chakra, while other meditations focus on one. If you’re feeling sluggish or weak, for example, a meditation on the chakra within your solar plexus will make you feel powerful!
Body scan meditations focus on each part of the body at a time. You’d be surprised at how much of an impact you will feel by thinking about each toe, part of the foot, part of the leg, etc. Teachers may instruct you to imagine each part of the body feeling heavier and heavier. You may end up falling asleep!
Qigong meditation sends energy through different pathways in your body. This is another practice that you may feel in your body.
These four are just a handful of the meditations that you can find online or at a local yoga studio. Try a few out and see which one makes you feel the most focused and refreshed!
How to Get Started On Your Meditation Journey
So how do you get started? Different apps offer guided and timed meditations for the journey of your choosing:
- Insight Timer
Meditations exist if you’re feeling lonely, feeling stressed, or feeling too energetic and can’t focus. Teachers may guide you through meditation with instructions, words of wisdom, or music. Even if you start with a one-minute meditation today, you’re on the path toward a more peaceful and mindful life with a healthy and happy brain! Remember the benefits of meditation on the brain when you start your meditation journey. You’ll feel these benefits sooner than you might think!