This is Your Brain on Meditation

When you look at a list of benefits of meditative practice, it almost sounds too good to be true.

If you hear the word “meditation” and think “that’s not for me,” “I can never get my thoughts to quiet down,” or “I don’t have time for that,” you are far from alone. You might picture someone sitting (or laying) with their eyes closed and an unmatchable willpower to simply send their thoughts packing. While this image isn’t entirely wrong, it certainly isn’t the only type of meditation. There are open and focused types of meditation. The one you choose will depend on if you would benefit from receiving guidance in quieting your mind. A quick Google search provides a number of breakdowns for different types and how to find one that’s the right fit for you (note: double-check your spelling so you don’t end up down a rabbit hole learning the ways of mediation).  Other types build upon visualization, compassion, and reflection skills. Meditation can connect to spiritual beliefs, or it can connect to your breathing. Part of determining if meditation practice is right for you is determining what works for you. 

 The challenge is building a meditation practice that you can maintain long enough for your brain to reap those benefits. Even practicing for a few minutes for a few days can provide some benefits, and building a long-term practice only increases those benefits. 

Benefits of meditation:

  • Reduces stress levels
  • Reduces anxiety and depression
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Controls pain
  • Improves sleep
  • Improves immune system
  • Increases mood and outlook on life
  • Heightens creativity and focus
  • Helps with processing emotions
  • Slows aging and memory loss (yes, really)
  • And many more

Benefits of meditation (nerd version):

  • Reduces cortisol (the stress hormone) 
  • Strengthens pre-frontal cortex which leads to improved concentration, awareness, and decision-making
  • More grey matter volume throughout the brain means a better-preserved brain (it helps with effects of aging)
  • Decreased activity in the default mode network (DMN) which reduces the amount of mind-wandering and self-referential thinking—which have been linked to unhappiness and worry
  • Strengthened hippocampus helps with learning, memory, emotional regulation, and self-referential processing

How do I get started?

Hopefully by now you are convinced to give meditation a try for yourself. You may be familiar with the Headspace app, but there are countless others. There are also books, YouTube channels, and magazine articles for getting started in practicing mindful meditation. Look around and see which options suit your needs.

Below is a one way to get started courtesy of headspace.com:

  1. Take 5 minutes out of your busy day and sit comfortably in a quiet space
  2. Close the eyes or soften the gaze in front of you
  3. Allow yourself to inhale and exhale fully and naturally 
  4. Starting at the top of your head, take 20 seconds to mentally scan all the way down your body
  5. As you scan, notice where you feel relaxed or tense, comfortable or uncomfortable, light or heavy
  6. Repeat the scan to build a mental picture for how your body feels in the present moment
  7. When your mind wanders, nudge it back to the area of your body where you last left off
  8. Appreciate yourself for taking a small piece of your day to practice meditation 

If you would like to learn more about meditation and other mindfulness tools, email or call us at (217) 203-2008 to schedule an appointment.

 

References:

https://www.headspace.com/meditation/how-to-meditate 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/02/09/7-ways-meditation-can-actually-change-the-brain/?sh=194a571e1465

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/12-benefits-of-meditation#12.-Accessible-anywhere