How Meditation Changes Your Brain
It may seem intuitive that our mind’s activity would affect our brain’s biology, but now new research is supporting that assumption. It reveals that meditation and other techniques affect brain fitness at the level of your genes—turning genes on or off that are associated with free radicals, inflammation, and cell aging, which affect cell and tissue damage. They have also been shown to affect our body’s “fight or flight” response to stressors.
In fact, according to an article by Michelle Andrews in the May 4, 2009 issue of the Baltimore Sun (“How to beat stress and angst through meditation”), one study on individuals who were meditation novices showed changes in brain and behavior after two weeks of daily 30-minute meditation sessions.
While it can’t eliminate all of your problems, Richard Davidson, director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says, “It can transform the emotional brain in ways that promote higher levels of resilience (and) less vulnerability and affect the body in ways that can improve health.”
There are many different kinds of meditation, and many places and people available to train you in meditation. But here is a simple one from Principles of Brain Management by Ilchi Lee that you can try right now:
- Sit comfortably, making your back as straight as you can. Relax your body completely. At first, just focus on the rhythm of your breath in your chest; just relax and follow your natural pattern. (You can also do this lying on your back.)
- Focus on each part of the body, letting go of all tension in that area. With every exhalation, try to release more and more tension from your body. Thoroughly release all tension from your face, shoulders, arms, back, abdomen, and feet.
- When your chest relaxes, gently begin to breathe more deeply into the abdomen, until you feel increased warmth there.
- Notice any emotions or thoughts that you have. Visualize them as part of the tension in your body. You may see it as a dark cloud within you.
- As you breathe in, imagine that a bright light is piercing through that darkness, the way sunlight cuts through a cloud.
- As you exhale, toxic vapors from the clouds are expelled from your body.
- Smile gently with each exhalation, allowing the light to overcome the darkness. Continue until all of the darkness has evaporated from your body and mind.
How do you feel now? Keeping this feeling requires consistent practice. As Davidson says, “This is mental exercise. If one wants (benefits) to continue, you have to continue.” So practice this every day for long-term results. Alpha and theta brainwave entrainment enhances these effects.