Meditation is an ancient practice that humans have engaged in for centuries. And for good reason: Various scientific studies show that regular meditation can actually change the brain in positive ways, alleviating stress and giving the mind a needed mental break.
What is meditation? Really, it can be whatever works for you. Some people practice specific types—like guided meditation, sleep meditation or mindful meditation—while others simply decide to sit quietly for a few minutes. However you're able to practice, your brain will undergo a meaningful shift in the process.
Here's what happens when you meditate.
Key Functions Go Offline
When you meditate, your frontal lobe, the part of your brain that does a lot of your mental leg work, turns off. The frontal lobe controls awareness, emotions, reasoning and planning. Beta waves, which process information, also take a break.
Many other important brain functions relax when you meditate as well. The thalamus, which controls the senses, stops working so hard. So does the parietal lobe, which keeps you oriented, along with the reticular formation, which is responsible for keeping you alert.
But this doesn't mean that the brain is completely offline or taking a snooze. In fact, giving your brain functions a rest actually makes them stronger, according to a study by UCLA. Researchers found that meditating may allow people to process information faster. They discovered that the more a person meditates, the stronger they may also be at making decisions and forming memories, in addition to gaining improved general cognitive function.
Stress, Fear and Anxiety Decrease
Meditation is often equated with a zen outlook on life and being more “chill” in general. But science actually proves this. When you meditate, the amygdala—the part of the brain associated with what's known as "fight or flight"—begins to shrink.
What's more, the "me center" of your brain, which can control how anxious or stressed you feel, is aided by meditation. The medial prefrontal cortex—the stronghold of your perspective and experience—becomes less tightly bound to fear and negative body sensations when you meditate. This effect of meditation can also be compared to that of CBD oil, in that they both alleviate anxiety. (And CBD can also help you deepen your meditation practice, providing an additional, cyclical benefit.)
Capacities to Be Rational and Empathic Increase
As anxiety is released through meditation, more positive emotions get a boost. As healthier connections form between the bodily sensation parts of your brain and your lateral prefrontal cortex, you're able to take a more sensible approach to negative emotions or worrisome situations, making you less reactive.
Also, the part of your "me center" that responds to other people connects more effectively to your bodily sensations, allowing you to feel for others more and thus helping you develop an increased sense of empathy.
All in all, the brain undergoes some drastic and overwhelmingly positive changes when you take the time to meditate. Whether you have only a handful of minutes a day or you can dedicate a full hour to the practice, it's worth your time for your brain's sake.