Whether or not you’ve ever participated in it, you’ve probably heard about the benefits of meditation. Maybe you’ve tried it and noticed it made you feel calmer, happier and less bothered by stressful situations. But why?
In the last couple decades, scientists have begun looking at the brains of people during and after meditation, and as it turns out, it’s not the placebo effect at work — meditation literally changes your brain. Let’s take a look at what goes on inside your head when you meditate.
Your mind rests
Researchers who looked at brain scans of people during meditation found an increase in alpha and theta waves. These types of brain waves are both associated with deep states of relaxation, and increased alpha waves have been linked to boosts in creativity and reduced depression. They also found few delta waves, which are characteristic of sleep, suggesting that meditation is restful yet different from sleep.
Some parts grow
Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar studies yoga and meditation’s effects on the brain. By looking at brain scans of people before and after completing an eight-week meditation course, she found that they had more grey matter in the parts of the brain involved in memory, emotions, decision making and empathy.
Other studies of Buddhist monks have shown more activity in parts of the brain responsible for empathy. But Dr. Lazar’s study showed that you don’t need to be a “meditation expert” to reap at least some of the benefits of meditation.
Other parts shrink
While some parts of your brain grow with meditation, others get smaller. Dr. Lazar also found that the meditators in her study had less grey matter in the amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for the fight-or-flight response – what makes your heart rate rise and your body tense up in stressful situations.
This is important because many studies have found that people who meditate feel less stress, but now we know that meditation actually changes the way our brains react to stress.
Your brain stays younger
As we grow older, we lose grey matter in our brains – it’s just part of the normal aging process. But Dr. Lazar found in her studies that some parts of the brains of 50-year-old meditators had as much grey matter as 25-year-olds. So it seems that meditation may also act as a buffer against aging in our brains.
Scientists like Dr. Lazar have only begun to discover the science behind the many benefits of meditation, but you don’t need to be an expert to see how meditation can benefit your life. At SHYFT at Mile High, we offer yoga and meditation classes to suit everyone, regardless of experience or ability to pay.