What happens to your brain when you meditate? Benefits of a meditation routine.

Aktualisiert: 24. Okt 2020

Meditation and mindfulness and especially its benefits to the human brain are frequently talked about in Psychological Research and Neurosciences. 

“Imagine that - meditation can make you have a younger brain. It can cause your brain to grow new neurons, contrary to antiquated theory that once said this was impossible.”

(Dr. Joe Dispenza) 


Slowly but steadily the both mindfulness and meditation have found their way into the business world. When taking a look at the human brain with its 80 to 100 billion neurons it is truly one of the biggest and most fascinating mysteries. It has great plasticity and creates new neural connections daily. 


Can meditation really cause your brain to grow new neurons and influence specific brain functions (e.g. decision-making or memory) positively?


Studies led by Sara Lazar of the Massachusetts General Hospital and neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School have employed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to take a closer look at the brain structures to see what happens to neural networks while a person is meditating. 


In her first study, Lazar looked at individuals who had been meditating for seven to nine years and compared them to a control group. The data proved that practicing meditation for a long period of time had increased gray matter in a region of the brain linked to the frontal cortex (which is associated with the formation of memories and decision making). While common knowledge says that when people get older, they tend to forget things. Interestingly, Lazar and her team found out that 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of gray matter in their frontal cortex as those half their age.


For her second study, she engaged people who had never meditated before and put them in an eight-week mindfulness program. Her question was: could it be that people who were long-term meditators had more gray matter to begin with? In this study participants were told to perform mindfulness exercises, including body scan, yoga, and sitting meditation, every day for 30 to 40 minutes. Lazar wanted to test the participants for positive effects of meditation on their psychological well-being and symptoms of disorders such as anxiety, depression or insomnia etc.


What she found was that in only eight weeks, the brain volume increased in several regions, from which the most relevant were:


  • The Hippocampus which is involved in learning, memory, and emotional regulation and the temporoparietal junction which is involved in empathy and compassion.

  • On the other hand, strikingly, brain volume shrank in the Amygdala which is a region of the brain much associated with fear, anxiety, pain, and stress.


So, with this great news, how can you benefit from it? 


Establishing a meditation practice does not necessarily have to be difficult or time consuming. Repetition is the mother of skill. The winding networks and its neural pathways of a newly forming mediation practice need to be reinforced and consolidated through our behavior, just like a path through a jungle needs to be walked frequently. If not, it will become overgrown and eventually disappear.


  1. Maybe you can find 5-10 minutes of peace and quiet for yourself and bear in mind that doing something every day, at the same time, in the same way, is much easier than doing it infrequently. 

  2. This is especially useful when being in fast-paced environments which keep you from finding stillness. You should find stillness for 10 minutes a day. Unless it is to hectic, then you should do it for an hour.

  3. While creating this new habit, perfection is a killer of progress. It is perfectly fine to be imperfect while doing it as long as it is done. 

  4. Try your best and embrace your limitations. Establish your personal practice of meditation and don´t let others break your routine. Invite them to join you instead.


I wish you a wonderful journey of finding new doors and seeing new ways!


As always, I´ d love to hear from you. Do you like what you read? Please pass it on to inspire others! 


Warmly,

Antje 

ANTJE SPIERTZ

Psychologisches Coaching

Aachener Straße 3

50674 Köln

Tel: +49 (0) 176 41548137

coaching@antjespiertz.com

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