Mindfulness Can Change Your Brain!

Mindfulness Can Change Your Brain!
The science behind mindfulness and its effectiveness on our brains and in our lives is exciting! The images are everywhere; a yogi or guru is sitting on a mat, cross legged, with eyes closed and seeming to be in a higher state of consciousness. Although that image is inspiring, it may be difficult for us regular folks to execute on a day-to-day basis. On the other hand, mindfulness meditation is a very simple and practical tool that can be utilized in many accessible ways. (I will be sharing mindfulness exercise in future newsletters,)  To understand why this practice is useful and can create such change in our lives, I think it is important to know that neuroscience research has found that this  practice can change the structure and function of the brain!


What is Mindfulness?

It is a form of meditation to bring our attention to the present moment, on purpose with an openness and acceptance for what is being experienced. Mindfulness is not a religion nor a way to empty the mind or even to relax. Our minds are constantly on and our thoughts can be compared to a “monkey-mind” being drawn in many directions, moment-to-moment. The goal of mindfulness is to observe our thoughts with an objective awareness and to have conscious control of our thoughts and actions.

Here is a quick video to show you how the process of mindfulness training works specifically with the brain.  Read on for more on the fascinating findings.

Studies suggest that mindfulness meditation strengthens the prefrontal cortex, that is responsible for higher order thinking and decreases the activity of the amygdala, that is responsible for a primitive fight or flight response.  Just like building muscles within the body, with regular practice, this form of meditation is building the prefrontal cortex by stimulating the neural connections responsible for focus, memory, emotion control and thought processing.  Additionally, the neurons between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex weaken and we are less reactive and stressed.  Who doesn’t need more Prefrontal strength!
Yoga Journal recently published a nice article on the research done by Rebecca Gladding, MD, psychiatrist and co-author of You are Not Your Brain, using fMRI scans of the brain to see what is going on structurally with the grey matter of when you meditate.

In the first few minutes of meditation, your ventromedial prefrontal cortex lights up. At this point our thoughts jump from one to the next – our monkey-mind. This part of the brain is always active unless we learn to activate other areas (which is what meditation does.) This part of the brain runs through the lens of “me.”

Once you start to focus your attention, your lateral prefrontal cortex lights up. Whether our focused attention is on our breath, mantra, footsteps, counting, or voice guided meditation, your lateral prefrontal cortex activates and overrides the “me” thoughts in favor of a more rational, logical, balanced position. This part of the brain help you see things neutrally.

After 8 to 12 weeks of meditating daily, your dorsomedial prefrontal cortex get activated. This is the part of the brain that helps us develop empathy. We are more compassionate and we ultimately have longer term changes that become newly formed traits of how we experience life.

Article link: This is your Brain on Meditation. Yoga Journal, Feb. 2019

The information above is just a few of the articles and studies that are discovering that mindfulness meditation is a powerful change agent in our minds and bodies.  Mindfulness not only benefits how we attend to our thoughts and choose to take action, but also neurologically to create lasting transformation.

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