The effects of meditation on the brain
What if meditation could change our brain? This is confirmed by more and more scientific studies. Zoom on the amazing benefits of regular practice.
What is meditation ?
Closed eyes, regular breathing, comfortable position … One might think that meditation is a moment of intense relaxation. For the body maybe, but for the mind, it’s more the opposite! During the meditative experience, the brain focuses on an object of observation (inside or outside). The difficulty of exercise is in not being distracted by our internal chatter. The goal? Calm the mind to relax and achieve inner peace.
Meditation is a training of the spirit, a contemplation present in all spiritualities, but especially among Buddhists: some textbooks speak of more than 80 000 forms of meditation! Now very popular in the world, meditation evokes stability, balance, altruism and compassion, qualities that a regular practice helps to develop.
There are 3 main types of meditation:
- The mindfulness meditation is the best known. It consists in becoming aware of one’s emotions, thoughts and sensations, and putting them aside to better anchor oneself in the present. It thus makes it possible to avoid brooding negative thoughts.
- The meditation focused attention will promote anchoring in the present moment, and develop vigilance.
- Compassion and altruism are considered a form of meditation. It is about becoming aware of the needs of others, developing a deep desire to help.
When science and spirituality go hand in hand
Associate science and spirituality, an inconceivable project? Inspired by the Buddhist tradition but present in all spiritualities, meditation has been the subject of much scientific research since the late 1980s. If its impact on stress, mood disorders, depression and chronic pain no longer to prove, the great discovery of recent years is its effect on the brain.
Neuroscientists have been studying the brain activity of “expert” meditators (at least 10,000 hours of practice). Result: benefits beyond all expectations for this “contemplative science”.
What effects on the brain?
There are more than 800 scientific publications on meditation and its effects on the brain. Some research reveals surprising changes in the functioning and even the structure of the brain …
First observation and not least since it proves that meditators manage to control their brains : the activation of gamma frequencies. These waves ensure coherence in the communication of certain areas of the brain, and under the effect of meditation, their activity reaches an amplitude never before observed by neuroscientists.
Another great discovery is effects on the plasticity of the adult brain . Scans and electroencephalograms performed on “expert” meditators reveal that the meditative experience solicits certain areas of the brain and improves its functioning. This is the case of neural circuits, to which it ensures a better connection. Result: attention and vigilance are improved daily.
Note that neural networks change according to the type of meditation practiced : mindfulness, benevolence or perspective. This was revealed in a study conducted on 300 subjects for 9 months, dedicating 3 months to each type of meditation.
Neuroscientists have observed that expert meditators have more developed brain regions than non-meditators: the left prefrontal cortex, which manages emotional processes, but also the hippocampus, which plays an important role in memory, alertness and mental health. adaptation to the environment. Regular practice helps reduce the amygdala responsible for fear and anxiety reactions. More generally, a diligent practice lengthens the telomeres, which boosts the power of the brain .
Meditation would also better manage emotions , especially among depressed. A study at the University of Toronto found that meditation reduced the risk of relapse by 40% in patients with at least 3 severe depressions. Indeed, after 6 months of mindfulness meditation practice, the subjects were better able to detach themselves from negative emotions.
Regular and medically supervised practice also helps to reduce the perception of pain and manage morbid thoughts , which is why meditation is increasingly present in hospitals.
As for the fact that it can delay aging (thesis of Elizabeth Blackburn, Nobel Prize in Medicine), a recent California study confirms that meditation can preserve its gray matter , but also the health of cells by avoiding stress . And after 3 months of intensive practice, meditation positively affects the activity of telomerases that play an important role in protecting against cellular aging .
So, do we start?
In addition to its scientifically proven benefits on the brain and emotions, meditation works throughout the body, including inflammatory phenomena and cellular aging. Twenty minutes daily are enough to enjoy its benefits. Here’s how to take your first steps, but the best thing is to turn to a professional.
- Good timing
In the morning or evening, to wake up gently or to eliminate the tensions of the day, or even at noon to recharge the batteries, it is up to you to choose according to your needs. Respect a predefined time and make sure to stay constant.
- A serene environment
Always meditate in the same place, in silence and in front of a wall is the ideal, this to avoid any distraction. Better, you can add candles, incense and soft music without words to create a conducive atmosphere. Meditation is best done in loose clothing, barefoot.
- A favorable state of mind
Before you begin, try to relax as much as you lie on your back, stretching yourself … Breathe deeply through the nose by inflating the belly with inspiration, eyes closed. Try to feel your support on the ground and consciously relax each part of your body, from toes to the top of the skull. When a flotation impression is felt, open your eyes and fix a point.
- The ideal posture
The posture the best known is the so-called lotus: sitting on a round and fine cushion, legs crossed, soles of the feet towards the sky. If this position is not comfortable for you, you can kneel or sit on a chair in your back, with your feet on the ground. The most important thing is to keep your back straight, slightly tuck your chin and have your shoulders relaxed. Before you start, put your hands to your face as a sign of respect, then place them against your abdomen, under the belly button, palms up to the sky and thumbs touching (this forms an egg, symbol of the origin of life). Close your eyes if this is your first try, to avoid external distraction. Little by little, you can open your eyes by looking at a meter in front of you.