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How Meditation Changes Your Brain at a Molecular Level
Your brain is a busy place. According to Aiimpacts.com, in the neocortex alone, the average cortical neuron fires around 0.16 times per second. Sound like a good thing? If you’re solving a large problem, this can be of benefit. You need all the brainpower you can get when trying to figure out how in the world you’ll stuff all that luggage into the back of your car for the annual trip to the lake. (Where is Einstein when you need him, really?) But we all know that sometimes all that action can get in the way. You want your brain to be as sharp as they come, but night times spent with a mind racing through worries that you can’t solve with your head on the pillow can be more than an inconvenience. Panic attacks aren’t uncommon. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the number of emails or texts you need to respond to, calls you need to make and appointments that require your presence, you’re not alone. Anxiety disorder is one of the most common mental health problems in North America. It affects millions and causes productivity to slow down, quality of life to dip low and happiness to essentially disappear. (Read our other blog post on how to cope with anxiety --> here) The solution? Medication helps some. Taking some time to meditate has also been proven to work. One of the reasons meditation can be so successful is that it actively rewires the brain. Read the science if you’re feeling unsure. A study done at The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) found that people who meditate show more improvements in brain activity than those who simply take time to rest. When you meditate, it was found, your theta waves increase in the frontal and middle parts of your brain, something that’s associated with deep relaxation. These waves pop up more frequently in individuals who are highly skilled meditators. They’re responsible for that feeling of physical, as well as mental calm that meditation can induce. Meditation has also been found to reduce activity in the “me-centers” of the brain. This is the part of your brain that’s always ‘on’. It’s called the default mode network (DMN). It’s responsible for self-referential thoughts and it’s where all that worry can take you when your thoughts are wandering without a compass. The great thing about meditation is that it’s easy to do. And it doesn’t take long to see results. Work done at Massachusetts General Hospital found that engaging in meditation for just 8 weeks can produce positive benefits. In a study, a group of participants showed increased measurements in the brain areas associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress after participating in a mindfulness meditation program for just two months. Meditation has been shown to increase the grey matter in your brain. It creates long-lasting structural changes in areas responsible for cognitive, sensory and emotional processing, it improves test results, increases longevity, and contributes to overall wellness. It’s a no brainer. When it comes to self-care, you want to treat yourself well on the surface, as well as on the inside. For tips on starting a meditation practice on your own, click here and here for ideas from those who do it on a regular basis. Take charge of your mental space, and feel relief.