The Science Behind How Mindful Meditation Changes Your Brain

As the world becomes more introspective, the term mindfulness has become somewhat of a buzzword. However, many don’t realize that the notion is backed by hard science. According to a recent study, there is strong evidence that practicing being in the moment – without judgement – changes the brain for the better.

The 2011 study covered participants who embarked on an eight-week mindfulness program. During that time, scientists witnessed a significant increase in the density of their gray matter.

In the years that followed, other neuroscientists across the globe have investigated how meditation – a key way of practicing mindfulness – impacts the brain. The findings: remarkable.

They discovered that eight different regions in the brain are affected by meditation. Here are some key findings:

  1. The first is the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) – a structure located behind the brains’ frontal lobe. The ACC is associated with one’s ability to purposefully direct attention and behavior, and suppress inappropriate knee-jerk reactions. People who have disorders in this region are known for being impulsive and likely have unchecked aggression. Meditators, on the other hand, demonstrate superior performance on tests of self-regulation. They also show more activity in their ACC region than non-meditators.

  2. The second region positively impacted by meditation is the hippocampus – the region of the brain that shows the highest increase in the amount of gray matter in meditating participants, as well as an increase in cortical thickness. Buried deep inside the brain, the hippocampus is part of the body’s limbic system, a set of inner structures associated with emotion, learning and memory. When one is suffering from chronic stress, the hippocampus gets affected, as do its cortisol receptors. That’s why people with PTSD and depression tend to have smaller hippocampi.

  3. Mindfulness meditation has also been proven to decrease activity in the default mode network (DMN) – the brain network that’s responsible for our wandering thoughts. Several studies have proven that regular meditation has a quieting effect on the DNM. And, even when the mind starts to wander, meditators are better at snapping back to reality.

  4. There is also a proven relationship between mindful meditation and its ability to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain – at the same level as antidepressants. Scientists also determined that meditation is an effective form of mind training, that helps the brain increase awareness. While meditation is no magic cure for depression, it can certainly help manage symptoms.

  5. There have also been reported decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala – the part of the brain responsible for fear, stress and anxiety – in those who meditate mindfully. Participants in this particular study said that these conclusions matched their own self-reports of their stress levels decreasing through meditation. This implies that meditation not only changes the brain for the better, but it changes our perception of the world, as well as our feelings. In fact, another study found that changes in the brain areas linked to mood and arousal improved remarkably for those who embarked on consistent mindful meditation.

  6. Children and adults alike suffer from varying degrees of attention deficit disorders (ADD). One of the central proven benefits of meditation is that it improves attention and concentration. Researchers determined that just a couple of weeks of meditation can help individuals focus as well as improve their memory. Considering that putting a strong focus on being in the present is a central aim of meditation, it’s no wonder that it can help people’s cognitive skills.

  7. Given its effects on the self-control regions of the brain, meditation can be an effective tool in helping people recover from various addictions. One study found that mindfulness training can assist those wanting to quit smoking. Researchers noted that those who embarked on mindful meditation along with conventional anti-smoking treatment were less likely to experience cravings, and more likely to quit the habit for good.   Other research has found that mindfulness training, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) can also be effective in treating other forms of addiction.

  8. There’s been an increased interest in the research surrounding developing brains – with some findings determining that short meditation breaks can help children during school. From meditation to yoga, teaching mindfulness techniques to kids who are dealing with unusual stressors or trauma can help a positive effect on their wellbeing. 

While mindfulness meditation is by no means a panacea, there is overwhelming evidence that it does do some good to the brains and emotional state of those who practice it regularly. 

If you have a few minutes in your morning or evening routine, make a conscious effort to practice moments of mindfulness. Just a few minutes of meditation can make a massive difference. Find out how the Hydrean can help you on the way: