The Truth Behind Meditation — How Meditation Works in the Brain

Society now seems to be obsessed with mindfulness and meditation, but what really is the truth behind meditation? Why is meditation necessary? Is it really necessary? How can meditation significantly increase our joy, peace, and freedom? Does meditation change our brains? Why do all these monks that seem to have it all figured out emphasize the importance of meditation so much? Let’s dive in and explore.

Meditation in Society

Our society seems to have a fairly predictable pattern. The pattern looks something like this: a new fad comes into style, a large percentage of the culture adopts this new fad, everyone starts to look the same, someone adopts a new fad, that new fad now comes into style, and so the wheel turns on. Is meditation just another fad in our society? Is it going to go “out of style” any time soon? I have a feeling that it won’t. 

Meditation isn’t a practice that some old hippie in the 70’s made up. Meditation has been around for over 5,000 years.

*cue gasps from the audience*

Researchers found evidence of meditators in India around 1,500 BCE. This practice of quieting the mind and focusing on the breath arose out of Eastern society. Most people tend to associate meditation with bald-headed men, the unattainable Buddha, or other religious officials, because of these origins. Meditation hadn’t been introduced to Western society until the 60’s. 

With the onset of technology and the internet, much of the Western culture has now at least heard about it. Not only has technology made our society more aware of its presence, but it has also made the practice of meditation easier. With a plethora of apps to choose from, anyone from the 12 to 82-year-old can find a professional to guide them through this practice at the touch of a button.   

The Science Behind Meditation

But why has this practice caught on like wildfire? What are the actual benefits of meditation? Scientists have found many. 

1. Meditation reduces anxiety. 

Researchers have found that meditation and mindfulness-based practices actually shrink the part of your brain responsible for anxiety. Humans face a problem nowadays because our brains were not created in the same environment as we live in today. Our brains evolutionarily formed in hunter-gatherer societies where abundant skyscrapers and snapchats were not the norm. Our ancestors never had to deal with the overload of stimuli, people, and noise we deal with today. Such high activity causes the alarm system in our brain to go off. This causes us to feel more anxious. With meditation, scientists have found that we don’t have to be victims of the anxiety-inducing environment anymore. 

2. Meditation strengthens our ability to reason. 

As mentioned in benefit #1, nowadays we face many more upsetting or scary situations that cause us to feel stress or anxiety. Every time we feel these emotions, our brain immediately thinks it means we are under attack. The more you meditate, the more you quiet these uncomfortable feelings. Additionally, you strengthen the part of the brain responsible for rationalizing the feelings. You can more easily say to yourself, “That car honk has nothing to do with me or my survival. I don’t need to be scared. Everything is fine.” You can calm yourself down more quickly. You can control your emotional responses.

3. Meditation improves our memory. 

A study found that the part of the brain responsible for memory, the hippocampus, got bigger after meditation. These changes were found after just eight weeks of practicing meditation. The average length of it in this study was 27 minutes. For 27 minutes a day, who wouldn’t want to have improved recall of your favorite song lyrics!

4. Meditation quiets down mind chatter. 

Researchers have found that meditation “quiets down” the network in the brain that is responsible for all of that annoying mind chatter we hear inside our heads. This “mind-wandering network” also lights up in your brain when you think about yourself a lot. Imagine if you could both quiet down your mind chatter and think of others more often? A true win-win with meditation!

5. Meditation improves your focus.

A study found that people who meditated were able to improve their focus. They were able to do so because meditating made them more able to block distractions. Additionally, they were more productive than those who did not meditate. 

Overall Truth Behind Meditation

In conclusion, meditation has a plethora of wonderful benefits. With improved focus, reduced mind chatter, better memory, improved reasoning abilities, and reduced anxiey, we would be a completely new person. Our abilities to feel peace inside would sky-rocket. Additionally, the peace we have in relationships with others would sky-rocket. We would feel safer and overall have better moods. Meditation, in theory, could change our world.