Anecdotal reports of the benefits of meditation have been around for many years. Reduced stress levels, a stronger immune system, improved mood and better sleep patterns are just a few of the celebrated health benefits. For spiritual practitioners, meditation is also the central practice on the road to higher consciousness and Enlightenment.
Modern science has begun to study, measure and catalog the tangible effects of meditation on the brain using scanning and imaging technology. Researchers have discovered the following physical changes to the brains of regular meditators (Sources cited below include Huffington Post | Washington Post | Journal of Neurology)
1. Prefrontal Cortex
The prefrontal cortex of the brain is essential in focusing, analysis, short-term memory and decision-making. Unfortunately, this area tends to atrophy and get smaller over time. However, regular meditators have been found to retain the gray matter in this important brain region even as they age.
2. Auditory and Sensory Cortex
The auditory and sensory cortex in meditators tend to be more developed as well. These regions are responsible for auditory and sensory perceptions in the world around us. Since mindfulness meditation places a focus on present moment awareness, it’s not too surprising that these brain regions would be more developed in meditators.
3. The Pons
The pons is a small area of the brain within the brain stem. It is responsible for producing regulatory neurotransmitters that keep the brain balanced and functioning smoothly. This area is healthier and more developed in those who meditate on a regular basis.
4. Left Hippocampus
The left hippocampus is associated with cognition, learning, memory and the regulation of emotions. The brains of those who mediate regularly are stronger and more developed in this important area.
5. Posterior Cingulate
The posterior cingulate assists us with internal focus, personal awareness and self-conception, brainstorming ideas and planning for the future. This area is more healthy and robust in regular meditators.
6. Temporo Parietal Junction (TPJ)
The TPJ is associated with the capacity for compassion, empathy and the ability to adopt different perspectives on life situations. This area is more developed in long-term meditators. The ideal of compassion for all beings could play a role in this brain change.
7. A Less Active Amygdala
The amygdala is located near the center of the brain and correlates with the human “fight or flight” mechanism. It is directly responsible for generating feelings of fear, anxiety and stress. In experienced meditators, the amygdala tends to be less active, resulting in reduced levels of anxiety and stressful feelings.
Science is now substantiating the physical health benefits a regular meditation practice can bring. Meditation literally reshapes your brain for a more positive life experience. The average amount of meditation time required for these brain benefits is around 30 minutes per day; however, some studies suggest that as little as 10 minutes a day can make a positive difference.