What is meditation?Meditation is focusing within or on a particular internal or external object and bringing our attention back to it when our mind starts to wander. It is a type of mental training for self-improvement. It helps simmer down the voices within and strengthens awareness of both our mind and body. The earliest records of this spiritual practice have been found in Vedantism, which is a Hindu philosophy in India, around 15th century BC. This philosophy states that meditation assists in transcending the self-identity blocks, our modern day limiting beliefs, and helps us find our connection to the Brahma, our Universe/modern day higher-self. The ancient Indian mental workout called Dhyana snowballed into different mediation techniques based on who is practicing it and its purpose.
How does meditation work?Meditation works by changing the neural pathways in our brain. Neural pathways are structured based on our experiences, memories, habits, behavior and environment. Reinforcement is to the brain what exercise is to the body. The more you do it, the stronger your muscles get. The more you experience something, the stronger the pathways in the brain become. It is both a solution and a problem! Enter meditation. Meditation alters different brain regions and thus re-writes the brain patterns. The Lateral prefrontal cortex, also known as the assessment center, assesses and helps regulate our extreme emotional responses that the fear zone and other parts of the brain trigger. It can erase unhelpful neural pathways slowly to bring positive changes to our negative autopilot behavior and habits. But it can only operate satisfactorily after the pathways between the Medial prefrontal cortex, Insula and Amygdala lose their strength. The Medial prefrontal cortex, also known as the "Me Center", is responsible for creating our thoughts, arousing feelings and controlling emotions, worth, esteem and self-image.
Tracking your tiny positive shifts can be helpful.Our "gut feeling", aka intuition, is majorly influenced by the Insula. It controls our autonomic nervous system by regulating sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The Amygdala, also known as the fear center, is our threat detection tool, aka our “fight-or-flight” activator. This retains memories and emotions attached to some experiences, especially the fearful ones. Flight or fight reaction is necessary but heavy prolonged stress and traumas affect its activity. The Hippocampus is another key brain region that gets modified. It stores long-term memories and hardens them over time. The difficulty or ease in achieving our desired success depends on the kind of information it's re-writing/writing. The medial prefrontal cortex's best friends are the amygdala and the insula. It means the neural pathways b/w them are extremely strong. This Me Center itself contains powerful neural pathways. This interdependency on each other and the tendency to ask the lateral prefrontal cortex "to not sit with them" is the reason we get stuck in toxic repeating patterns even if we're consciously trying to break them. This is why meditation is key to break those repeating life loops! Meditation weakens the strong neural connections b/w the medial prefrontal cortex and the amygdala/insula. In turn, it increases gray-matter density in the hippocampus necessary for creating new and favorable neural pathways. The decrease in gray-matter density in the amygdala happens simultaneously that overrides old patterns. The process is so potent that when the analysis of MR images were done for one of the Harvard studies, it showed changes in the structures of the different brain regions. When we meditate, the processing of information by default decreases. This gradually starts to shrink the size of undesired neural pathways and makes the bond b/w the lateral prefrontal cortex, also known as the assessment center, and the insula/amygdala stronger.
Benefits of meditation
- Attention span and self-awareness are two abilities that one can improve with the help of mediation.
- Meditation can strengthen the mind and body connection. This is why it eases both psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety over time when the stubborn links b/w the Me Center and the amygdala/insula start to wear out.
- Meditation can increase creativity and logical promptness. It can improve executive control.
- Meditation can alleviate neurological and chronic pain intensity. It has proven to be an effective remedy in improving sleep, cultivating peace and optimizing faith.
- The claim that the ancient Indian form of meditation can speed up the process of quashing limiting beliefs has proven to be scientifically true.
- Research says that heart health can be improved with long-term meditation practice. This in turn can reduce high blood pressure.
- Meditation can also minimize the symptoms of diverse learning disorders in some.