Your Brain on Meditation

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A glimpse of the physical change meditation causes in your brain.

“Yoga citta vritti nirodhah.” –Yoga Sutras 1.2

Translated: Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations/disturbances of the mind. The ancient text (Yoga Sutras) outlines this yogic idea among other many other guiding principles for practicing yogis.  These sutras have helped centuries of yogis on their path.  Now, modern science has proven that yogic meditation reorganizes your brain and trains your brain to better concentrate, feel more compassion, and cope better with stress.

In our society, we have become accustomed to multi-tasking so our brains are usually doing many jobs at once.  Most of our brains are functioning in high gear for the majority of the day.  This powerful state usually shows beta wave readings in the brain.  Beta waves are not bad for you but overdoing it can cause stress-related illness or burnout.  Meditation gives you control of your brain waves. You have the power to literally change your mind and move away from thoughts that don’t serve you. Just through this mindful practice, you can restructure the anatomy of your brain.  Meditation trains your brain so you are able to focus on one thing. This single-pointed focus can be on a number of things including: your breath, a repeated mantra, or a goal that you are working on. Meditation makes you better attuned to receive the answers, tools and resources you need to fulfill your vision. It accomplishes this by developing your capacity to modulate and regulate the different frequencies of brain waves emitting.

In a 2009 study, Luders and colleagues compared the brains of 22 meditators and 22 age-matched nonmeditators and found that the meditators (who practiced a wide range of traditions and had between 5 and 46 years of meditation experience) had more gray matter in regions of the brain that are important for attention, emotion regulation, and mental flexibility. Increased gray matter typically makes an area of the brain more efficient or powerful at processing information. Luders believes that the increased gray matter in the meditators’ brains should make them better at controlling their attention, managing their emotions, and making mindful choices.

Considering all these benefits may peak an interest in sitting and meditating.  Seated meditation can be such a daunting task for those of us with Western minds.  Developing a disciplined seated practice can take years of patience and perseverance.  My favorite alternative to finding a seated meditation is to find meditation on the yoga mat.  In your yoga practice, you can access a moving meditation.  When you become focused on linking your breath with movement in a vinyasa flow, your mind no longer has time or space to obsessively fluctuate.  Instead of the endless to-do list, your attention is drawn to the rhythm of your breath.  According to Yoga Journal, for the past decade, researchers have found that if you practice focusing attention on your breath or a mantra during a yoga session, the brain will restructure itself to make concentration easier. If you practice calm acceptance during meditation, you will develop a brain that is more resilient to stress. And if you meditate while cultivating feelings of love and compassion, your brain will develop in such a way that you spontaneously feel more connected to others.  If you embark on this meditation journey, be patient with your human nature as you restructure and retrain your brain waves.

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