Some people may see “mindfulness” or “meditation” as a come-and-go trend, but in truth, the practice has been around for quite some time. Ever since antiquity, practitioners of mindfulness have been proving that steady involvement can bring significant benefits to your brain – particularly if you have been doing it for quite some time. In this article will take you through how mindfulness changes the brain with regular practice.
What Is Mindfulness?
As you are going through this test, start wiggling your toes. Think about the way they are pushing against the socks or your shoes. Feel the way in which your feet press against the floor, and really give some thought into what you are currently feeling at this very moment. Think about the heaviness and every sensation that your body is going through right now.
If you never practiced mindfulness before, then you just did, for a few moments, through the previous paragraph. To put it as simply as possible, mindfulness involves being aware of everything that is happening around you, at the exact moment in which it takes place. By practicing mindfulness, you are bringing your thoughts and awareness into here and now, focusing your attention on exactly that moment.
It might not sound like much, but mindfulness puts your brain to work. It works around the way in which your brain processes information, changing the actual structure of your brain with regular exercise. The effects are generally lasting and noticeable, and in most cases, all you need is a meditation cushion, some peace and quiet.
Mindfulness is being aware of everything around you in the present moment.
Effects of Mindfulness Meditation
By using mindfulness, you are actually changing the physical structure of your brain – all of it. So, here is how mindfulness changes the brain, affecting every aspect of your life.
1. Prefrontal Cortex Growth
The more developed your prefrontal cortex is, the easier it will be for you to process high-level thinking (i.e. the more complicated things). For example, if you have a task that needs sustained and undivided attention, you need your prefrontal cortex to be as activated as possible. You also need it when making decisions or regulating your emotions.
The prefrontal cortex can go through these tasks by boosting its goal-directed activation (what you want to do) and removing the less important ones (the things that distract you from your work). An increased volume of the prefrontal cortex allows you to focus better on the more important tasks, making them easier to handle. Since regular mindfulness is shown to increase cortical thickness, it is exactly what you need.
2. Amygdala Shrinkage
When understanding how mindfulness changes the brain, you also need to understand the amygdala. The amygdala is found at the epicenter of the brain and is the part that holds your “fight-or-flight” response. The volume and activation of this part of your brain are linked with a variety of emotional and physical symptoms such as depression, anxiety, stress, and so on. It is responsible for what you feel under certain uncomfortable circumstances.
The Amygdala holds your “fight-or-flight” response that you feel under uncomfortable circumstances.
Studies have found that upon regular mindfulness practice, the amygdala brain cell volume becomes much smaller. The more reduced the amygdala is in size, the less likely you will be to experience sensations such as fear and anxiety – which is why, in this case, you may say that “less is more.”.
These feelings grow when the amygdala is larger, triggering your “fight or flight response,” causing you to feel more emotional in regard to your surroundings. A reduced size of the amygdala will help control your fear, keep your head calm, and prevent it from going into chaos.
3. Hippocampus Growth
Have you noticed that some people have more difficulties learning and remembering things in comparison to others? Likewise, think about how easy it might be for someone to remember a name, whereas you forget it from the moment that person introduces themselves to you. That’s not exactly your fault – it’s just your hippocampus not being as developed as it should be.
Regular mindfulness can help with the growth of your hippocampus – the part of the brain that is responsible for memory, learning, and emotional regulation. The thicker this part is, the more your brain should be able to perform in these areas. Since it has been proven that mindfulness can increase the thickness of your hippocampus and improve your emotional intelligence, it is a practice that you want to add to your daily routine.
Your Hippocampus is reponsible for memory, learning, and emotional regulation.
4. Posterior Cingulate Cortex and Temporoparietal Junction Growth
The temporoparietal junction is the part of your brain that is associated with compassion, empathy, and taking things into perspective. The posterior cingulate cortex, on the other hand, is linked to self-relevance and the wandering of the mind. By mixing these two, you will notice an ability to take better care and focus not only on yourself but on others as well.
Mindfulness helps you develop those parts of your brain – the ones that allow you to become more “people persons.” By practicing mindfulness regularly, you will gradually be able to become a better, more compassionate person every day.
5. Pons Growth
The pons region of your brain is associated with your regulatory neurotransmitters production – i.e. the chemicals that will communicate to your brain whether its parts should activate or deactivate it. Quite a few studies have proven that regular practice of mindfulness can trigger the growth of this area, particularly after years of use throughout their lifespan.
When this area of your brain is significantly thickened, you are able to remain centered – although this also depends on the brain’s chemical production and the development of certain regions.
Pons growth can also improve your sleep as it’s producing melatonin while improving your mood through the production of serotonin. Basically, with the pons growing at a more appropriate size, you should be able to feel happier and less prone to going off the rails.
Pons growth can also improve your sleep and your mood.
6. Cortical Matter Preservation
As much as you may want to ignore this happening or pretend it never happened altogether, your cortical matter gets smaller the more you advance in age. Yes, the older you get, the more your brain is likely to shrink. When trying to understand how mindfulness changes the brain, you also need to be aware of some biological factors that take place with time.
Studies show that regular meditation has been able to increase the brain size, preserving the cortical matter as we add years to the table. After analyzing the brain progress of those who practice meditation and those who do not practice it, it has been discovered that those who meditate regularly – at least once a week – have an increased cortical matter.
This means that if a person takes up meditation from an early age, they should be able to slow the cortical thinning process that happens with age. With regular exercise of your brain, you may be 40-50 years old, but you will have the brain of someone in their 20s. It’s an investment that will prevent your mind from failing on you in the future, allowing you to maintain your sharpness even as you are nearing retirement.
7. Insula Activation
The insula is what we refer to as the “home of the interoception” – or as we popularly call it, the body’s internal sense. It is associated with your visceral and instinctual “gut” feeling, and it is the key to the way in which your body perceives sensations. The more you practice mindfulness, the better you should be able to perceive what is happening around you, keeping an eye on your constantly changing physical sensation.
There is also enough proof that shows the gray matter on the insula – particularly the one found in the sub-region of the section – is much lower in the case of people diagnosed with schizophrenia. In a way, this seems logical, as most of the schizophrenia symptoms involve the absence of mindfulness (for example, poor control of their attention along with hallucinations).
The more you practice mindfulness, the better you’re able to perceive what’s happening around you.
8. Enhanced High-Frequency Gamma Brainwave Activity
Meditation has also been associated with enhanced high-frequency gamma waves, responsible for your state of bliss and heightened awareness. Those who have been involved with meditation in the long term have also shown that there is a significant change in the brainwaves, during, and even before the meditation session started.
Many people think that mindfulness is a simple spiritual state of being – one that only affects your brain in a psychical matter. Still, the changes are also quite physical, and you can see it from the way in which your brain is changing.
Granted, you won’t be able to see these results from the first day of meditation; it may take weeks, even months of practice until you actually see results. So, now that you know how mindfulness changes the brain, there is no reason why you should not add it to your routine. So, grab your meditation tools and start doing it now!
Co-founder of MB Zen, digital nomad and yogini. Trying to beat down stress and achieve peace of mind through the daily practice of Yoga. After a while in yoga, I embraced it wholy, and it changed my lifestyle upside down. Now I want to give back , helping others on their journey.