By now we all know that mindfulness meditation is good for us, but just how good is it? Well, studies that include brain scans show that with regular practice, meditation can actually change the physical structure of our brains for the better. How exactly is this possible, and why is it important? Good questions.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s extraordinary capacity to change with repeated experiences. Some of those changes include new neurological connections, new brain cells, and enhanced brain cell activity. Think of the repetition required to learn how to play the piano well. If you took a few lessons for a few months, you might be able to plunk out a simple song but would soon forget how to play. Extend that regular practice over several years, and your brain becomes hard wired to know how to play the piano.
A similar thing happens with a consistent meditation practice. Scientific studies have shown regular meditation produces positive changes to the hippocampus, a part of the brain that plays a huge role in learning, memory, and emotional regulation. The same thing has been found in studies looking at the amygdala, that part of the brain that manages our fight, flight or freeze response when we are faced with danger (both real and perceived). Just like the brain can be hard wired to learn how to play piano, with regular meditation it can also be re-wired to help improve focus, decision making, impact our physical state, and help manage our emotions. The good news is those who meditate regularly are literally changing their brains in as little as eight weeks! A much shorter time than it takes to learn how to play the piano.
So why does this grey matter, matter anyways? Over stimulation on a constant basis has become our societal norm, so we may not even recognize just how stressed and distressed we truly are. Our nervous systems, our bodies and our brains are all impacted by this constant state of “too much” contributing to a variety of physical and emotional issues. Starting a mindful meditation practice may not cure human kind of all that ails us, but it can certainly begin to shift the structure of our brains so that we can begin to think more clearly, regulate our emotions, relax our nervous systems, and feel more at ease in our bodies and in the world around us.
This very ancient practice of mindfulness meditation has some very real, modern day applications that could help us feel just a little bit better. And now more than ever, we could all collectively use something that makes us feel just a little bit better.