Meditation and the Brain

shutterstock_285334655Meditation is a process of stillness, self-reflection and self-awareness. It is not a religion. Although the word meditation has been associated with Buddhist practices, anyone who sits in stillness and attempts to become more aware of who they really are, is practicing elements of meditation.

Other terms for meditation include prayer, reflection and mindfulness practice.

Why Meditate?

Many tout the benefits of meditation, including stress relief, inner peace, regulation of the body, and gaining a sense of well-being.

Meditation is about more than just improving one’s lived experience, though.

Have you ever noticed how your mind is going 100 miles an hour? Thoughts may be focused on one problem or element of life while the body is performing a different task such as cleaning or driving. The mind can start to obsess about certain elements of life which feel out of control: work problems, relationship issues, cravings for money, food, entertainment.

Meditation explores who or what is running the mind, and brings the mind into a state of stillness. This prevents the mind from going in countless different directions, and instead allows you to better manage your perspective, thoughts and perception of life.shutterstock_152265941

It’s possible to observe the mind, and see its healthy and unhealthy patterns. True concentration can happen when worries, wants and compulsive thoughts don’t dictate where attention is focused.

The Research behind Meditation

Did you know there are many research studies that demonstrate meditating is good for the brain? It alters brain activity, affects blood flow and improves memory. shutterstock_248380165

The research also argues that meditation improves symptoms of depression. According to authors Annels, Kho and Bridge (2015) “… medical imaging has a valuable role to play in evidencing the physiological changes within the brain caused by meditation that counteract those that cause depression.”

That said, always see primary care provider or licensed mental health expert if experiencing depression. Never stop any medication in favor of meditation without medical oversight. There can be other physiologic processes responsible for depression, so a full assessment is necessary first. Then, if the mental health professional approves meditation as an alternative, the evidence is there to support it as one option for treatment! You can discuss the Annels study which is cited below.

Meditation, mindfulness and awareness of the breath are all wonderful practices that can complement one’s lifestyle.

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The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed medical professional. It is essential that you discuss with your primary care provider any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.

Sources

Annells, S., Kho, K., & Bridge, P. (2015). Meditate don’t medicate: How medical imaging evidence supports the role of meditation in the treatment of depression. Radiography, doi:10.1016/j.radi.2015.08.002

Dunlop, J. (2015). Meditation, Stress Relief, and Well-Being. Radiologic Technology, 86(5), 535-555.

Fox, K. C., Nijeboer, S., Dixon, M. L., Floman, J. L., Ellamil, M., Rumak, S. P., & … Christoff, K. (2014). Review: Is meditation associated with altered brain structure? A systematic review and meta-analysis of morphometric neuroimaging in meditation practitioners. Neuroscience And Biobehavioral Reviews, 4348-73. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.03.016

Hazari, N., & Sarkar, S. (2014). A Review of Yoga and Meditation Neuroimaging Studies in Healthy Subjects. Alternative & Complementary Therapies, 20(1), 16-26. doi:10.1089/act.2014.20109

Newberg A B, Wintering N, K halsa DS, Roggenkamp H, Waldman MR .(2010) Meditation effects on cognitive function and cerebral blood f low in subjects with memory loss: a preliminary study. J Alzheimers Dis. 20(2):517-526.

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