I’m sure you’ve heard people extol the virtues of meditation. You may be skeptical of the claims that it helps with all aspects of life. But, the truth is, it does. Sitting every day, for at least 15-30 minutes, makes a huge difference in how you approach life, how personally you take things and how you interact with others. It enhances compassion, allows you to see things more clearly (including yourself) and creates a sense of calm and centeredness that is indescribable. There really is no substitute.
The brain, and how we are able to mold it, is fascinating and nothing short of amazing. Here are the brain areas you need to know:
What’s interesting about the Medial PreFrontal Cortex (mPFC) is that it actually has two sections:
The Brain Without Meditation – Stuck on Me
If you were to look at people’s brains before they began a meditation practice, you would likely see neural connections which work so that whenever you feel anxious, scared or have a sensation in your body (e.g., a tingling, pain, itching, whatever), you are far more likely to assume that there is a problem (related to you or your safety).
This explains how it is that we often get stuck in repeating loops of thought about our life, mistakes we made, how people feel about us, our bodies (e.g., “I’ve had this pain before, does this mean something serious is going on?) and so on.
The Brain on Meditation – I Can See Clearly Now
In contrast, if you meditate on a regular basis, several positive things happen.
First, the strong, tightly held connection between the Me Centre (specifically the unhelpful vmPFC) and the bodily sensation/fear centres begins to break down. As this connection withers, you will no longer assume that a bodily sensation or momentary feeling of fear means something is wrong with you or that you are the problem! This explains, in part, why anxiety decreases the more you meditate – it’s because the neural paths that link those upsetting sensations to the Me Centre are decreasing.
Said another way, your ability to ignore sensations of anxiety is enhanced as you begin to break that connection between the unhelpful parts of the Me Centre and the bodily sensation/fear centres. As a result, you are more readily able to see those sensations for what they are.
Second, a heftier, healthier connection forms which means that when you experience a bodily sensation or something potentially dangerous or upsetting, you are able to look at it from a more rational perspective (rather than automatically reacting and assuming it has something to do with you). For example, when you experience pain, rather than becoming anxious and assuming it means something is wrong with you, you can watch the pain rise and fall without becoming ensnared in a story about what it might mean.
Finally, an added bonus of meditating is that the connection between the helpful aspects of the brain and the bodily sensation centre – involved in empathy – becomes stronger. This healthy connection enhances your capacity to understand where another person is coming from, especially those who you cannot intuitively understand because you think or perceive things differently from them (i.e., dissimilar others). This increased connection explains why meditation enhances empathy.
Daily Practice is Important
Essentially, the science “proves” that in a very real way, you literally are changing your brain for the better when you meditate.
This means that you are able to see yourself and everyone around you from a clearer perspective, while simultaneously being more present, compassionate and empathetic with people no matter the situation. With time and practice, people do truly become calmer, have a greater capacity for empathy and find they tend to respond in a more balanced way to things, people or events in their lives.
However, to maintain your gains, you have to keep meditating. Why? Because the brain can very easily revert back to its old ways if you are not .
To me, this amazing brain science and the very real rewards gained from meditation combine to form a compelling argument for developing and/or maintaining a daily practice. It definitely motivates me on those days I don’t “feel” like sitting. So, try to remind yourself that meditating every day, even if it’s only 15 minutes, will keep those newly formed connections strong and those unhelpful ones of the past at bay.
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