“Our minds have the incredible capacity to both alter the strength of connections among neurons, essentially rewiring them, and create entirely new pathways. (It makes a computer, which cannot create new hardware when its system crashes, seem fixed and helpless).” ― Susannah Cahalan
There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that meditation has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. Its positive effects are so widespread that it is difficult to find any other treatment of any kind with such broad beneficial effects on everything from mood and happiness to severe mental and physical illnesses. This raises the question of how meditation could do this.
The nervous system is constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. For example, the brain area that controls the right index finger has been found to be larger in blind subjects who use braille than in sighted individuals. Similarly, cab drivers in London who navigate the twisting streets of the city, have a larger hippocampus, which is involved in spatial navigation, than predefined route bus drivers. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas.
In today’s Research News article “The Meditative Mind: A Comprehensive Meta-Analysis of MRI Studies”
Boccia and colleagues summarize the current state of research on the effects of meditation on the nervous system. They show that meditation activates a network of brain areas that over time, in experienced meditators, increases in size and in the ability of these areas to interact (increased connectivity).
The particular parts of the brain that are affected by meditation are areas that have been demonstrated previously to be involved in self-referential processes, including self-awareness and self-regulation, attention, executive functions, and memory formations. The altered structures have functions that align perfectly with the types of changes observed in expert meditators. These include increases in present moment awareness of the self and the environment, sustained attention, cognitive ability, memory ability, the abilities to regulate emotions and responses to emotions.
Hence, it appears that meditation alters the nervous system in important ways that result in changes in the individual’s psychological and physical makeup that in turn affect health and wellbeing.
So, meditate and improve your brain.
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies