Back in the early days of psychology, scientists thought that the human brain is pretty much fixed and stable right after puberty. In 1890, however, William James challenged that idea in his book “The Principles of Psychology”. There he introduced the concept of neuroplasticity- the fact that the brain can be altered-both mentally and physically, by changing its stimuli. The stimuli could either by the environment, behavior, thought patterns, or anything with a lasting impact on the brain.
Thanks to MRI technology, we know that this is true, and that different effects caused by different stimuli can be quantified.
Now that we know this, what can we do to rewire our own brains for the better? The answer is simple: meditation.
Source: TEDx Talks
Several studies have been conducted on the effects of meditation on one’s mental health. The results have mostly been positive.
Here are some of them:
1) Fights mental illness
Source: St. Joseph’s Parish & Sanctuary
In a study conducted by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, results have shown that meditation has helped reduce anxiety by 0.38, depression by 0.3, and pain by 0.33 in 8 weeks. While these numbers aren’t high, they’re almost just as good as antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs.
2) Increases gray matter as well as slowing signs of aging
Source: Wait But Why
A study published in the Journal Frontiers of Psychology has shown that meditation has increased the amount of gray matter in the brain by a significant amount. “We expected rather small and distinct effects […] what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain,” said Florian Kurth, co-author and postdoctoral scholar from the University of California. This study was further backed by another study conducted by Sara Lazar, neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. She found that “in this one region of the prefrontal cortex, 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of grey matter as 25-year-olds.”
3) Reduces selfishness
Yale University scientists have found decreased activity in the “Default Mode Network” in those who meditate. Default Mode Network is a part of the brain linked to mind-wondering and self-referential thoughts. This network was found to be “relatively deactivated” in those who meditate regularly, which gives them better focus and concentration, makes them more kind and loving, and complete awareness.
4) Helps smokers quit
Finally, the University of Texas has found that “among smokers, 2 weeks of meditation training (5 h in total) produced a significant reduction in smoking of 60%.” They also improved their self-control abilities.
In our world that moves ever so fast without stopping or taking a break, our brains can easily be strained. Some build a dependence on smoking, and other vices in order to cope. Others are unable to cope completely and develop mental disorders. In order to relieve our minds, calm our nerves, and breathe, it’s good to know that we have options. Meditation and exercise being just one of them. It’s best to start spending just a few minutes a day just blocking everything out, sitting still, and breathe.