Meditation and the brain

Meditation is a practice that helps to clear the mind and can train one’s attention and awareness. It has been practised since the ancient times, and brings about many wonderful mental, physical and spiritual benefits.

With advancements in technology, brain researchers have been able to study the brain activations and differences brought about my meditation through the use of EEG (electroencephalogram), DTI (diffusion tensor imaging) and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging).

Here are some key highlights that brain research has suggested about the benefits of meditation.

  1. Differences in the cortical thickness of various frontal and parietal regions of the brain in meditation practitioners compared to controls were associated with enhanced cognitive processes such as emotional regulation, more focused attention, and self-perception.
  2. Meditation is able to change the brain through neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s way of learning or acquiring new ‘skills’. A study that compared advanced meditation practitioners vs novice meditation practitioners found differences in brain activations in regions associated with emotional regulation and attentional control. This suggested that attention and emotional regulation can be trained through more practice in meditation.
  3. Meditation can trigger the neurotransmitters and chemicals in the brain such as dopamine, norepinephrine, GABA, melatonin and serotonin which in turn regulate stress, mood levels, anxiety levels, and calms us down.
  4. There are 5 types of brain waves – delta, theta, alpha, beta and gamma. A 2009 study suggested that meditation helped to increase the alpha and theta brain waves, the two brain waves that are associated with a more relaxed state of mind.

 

References:

Davidson, R. J., & Lutz, A. (2008). Buddha’s Brain: Neuroplasticity and Meditation. IEEE signal processing magazine25(1), 176–174. https://doi.org/10.1109/msp.2008.4431873

Kang, D. H., Jo, H. J., Jung, W. H., Kim, S. H., Jung, Y. H., Choi, C. H., … & Kwon, J. S. (2013). The effect of meditation on brain structure: cortical thickness mapping and diffusion tensor imaging. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience8(1), 27-33. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nss056

Krishnakumar, D., Hamblin, M. R., & Lakshmanan, S. (2015). Meditation and Yoga can Modulate Brain Mechanisms that affect Behavior and Anxiety-A Modern Scientific Perspective. Ancient science2(1), 13–19. https://doi.org/10.14259/as.v2i1.171

Lagopoulos, J., Xu, J., Rasmussen, I., Vik, A., Malhi, G. S., Eliassen, C. F., … & Ellingsen, Ø. (2009). Increased theta and alpha EEG activity during nondirective meditation. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine15(11), 1187-1192.

 

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