Friday, January 31, 2014

What Happens to the Brain When You Meditate (And How it Benefits You)

What is Meditation?

There are different ways to meditate, and since it’s such a personal practice there are probably more than any of us know about. There are a couple that are usually focused on heavily in scientific research, though. These are focused-attention, or mindful meditation, which is where you focus on one specific thing—it could be your breathing, a sensation in your body or a particular object outside of you. The point of this type of meditation is to focus strongly on one point and continually bring your attention back to that focal point when it wanders.

The other type of meditation that’s often used in research is open-monitoring meditation. This is where you pay attention to all of the things happening around you—you simply notice everything without reacting.

What Happens in Your Brain When You Meditate

This is where things get really interesting. Using modern technology like fMRI scans, scientists have developed a more thorough understanding of what’s taking place in our brains when we meditate. The overall difference is that our brains stop processing information as actively as they normally would. We start to show a decrease in beta waves, which indicate that our brains are processing information, even after a single 20-minute meditation session if we’ve never tried it before.

In the image below you can see how the beta waves (shown in bright colors on the left) are dramatically reduced during meditation (on the right).

Below is the best explanation I found of what happens in each part of the brain during meditation:

Frontal lobe
This is the most highly evolved part of the brain, responsible for reasoning, planning, emotions and self-conscious awareness. During meditation, the frontal cortex tends to go offline.

Parietal lobe
This part of the brain processes sensory information about the surrounding world, orienting you in time and space. During meditation, activity in the parietal lobe slows down.