This is a guest post by Psychology student Brittany Miller
You’ve heard the popular mantra, you’ve seen the forms and know the behavior. It’s even prominent in the popular movie series Star Wars. Meditation is a mental discipline in which one “thinks” his or her way to a deep, relaxed state of awareness. How do we generate inner-peace through use of our own mind? Every day, your mind processes a barrage of emotions, visual images, memories, and more. Overcoming that internal chatter is hard, but when you meditate, you teach your mind to narrow its concentration to one thing, limiting the stimulation to your nervous system.
There are many ways to meditate, but they all strive for the same goal: Relaxation.
Since mediation is a mental discipline, one has to wonder: what exactly changes in the brain of a long-time meditator? Psychology is the study of mental processes and behavior, and by applying a psychological perspective, I want to find out why meditation works so well as a simple stress reducer.
Physiological Psychology: What changes in the brain?
This subdivision of psychology studies the mechanisms of the brain and their relation to one’s behaviors and perception. I’ve done some research and listed a few important findings on what meditation accomplishes within the brain of a meditator.
Though your mind is focused, some activities inside your brain go unchecked. In EEG (electroencephalograph) studies, brainwaves of different frequencies are measured, and many found an increase in these following brainwaves:
- Alpha Waves: Healthy alpha wave production supports mental resourcefulness, better mental coordination, and improves the general sense of relaxation and weariness. Many believe alpha waves are the bridges between consciousness and unconsciousness. Meditation synchronizes alpha activity between the four regions of the brain: left, right, anterior, and posterior, which positively correlates with creativity.
- Theta Waves: Theta waves come in strong bursts in long-term meditators who report a peaceful, drifting, and pleasant experience at the time. These waves enhance creativity, intuition, and daydreaming. It is also a storage area for memories, emotions, and sensations. Theta waves are strong during any sort of spiritual focus and they reflect the state between wakefulness and sleep.
- Beta Waves: When the EEG shows bursts of Beta waves, experienced meditators report an approach of yogic ecstasy or a state of intense concentration sometimes accompanied by an acceleration of heart rate. Beta waves can increase mental ability, focus, and alertness.
Meditation in Relation to Brain Hemispheres
Meditation seems to give us slight control of specific brain functions as well. We have two hemispheres to our brain each with different predominant functions: left(language/math/logic) and right (spatial abilities/face recognition/visual imagery/music).
Some studies show control of brain functions the importance of the right hemisphere during meditation:
- Bennett and Trinder (1977) reported that transcendental meditators couldshift brain activity
- Davidson (1976) reported that, during mystical experience, the right hemisphere dominates cerebral function.
One study concluded that meditation might begin with activity in the left hemisphere, which then gives way to functioning characteristics of the right hemisphere. Another study suggests that meditation may inhibit the left hemisphere, shifting the focus of consciousness to the right hemisphere.
In conclusion, the right hemisphere (being synthetic and holistic) seems to be dominant in meditation. Both left and right hemisphere activities are slightly repressed in advanced meditation, however. These findings are evidence that meditation does indeed narrow focus in the brain and can even transcend a meditator to an even clearer mind by repressing both hemispheres.
“Self-awareness is the path to self-mastery; self-mastery is the way to happiness.”
Meditation vs. Frustration
The best way to notice the benefits of meditation is to take a close look at the behaviors and health of meditators versus non-meditators. A study by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical School recorded the brain waves of stressed-out employees working in a high-tech firm in Wisconsin. The subjects were divided into two groups: 25 subjects were asked to learn meditation over eight weeks and the remaining 16 were left as a control group.
All participants had their brain waves scanned three times during the study: once at the beginning, once after eight weeks when the 25 subjects completed their meditation course, and once four months afterward.
The meditation group showed a shift in activity to the left frontal lobe. People with more activity in the left frontal cortex than in the right tend to have a cheerful temperament. These people tend to have a more positive disposition and are more willing to interact with people and be content with their lives.
Those with more activity in the right frontal area of the brain hesitate during encounters with people or situations and stress out over the smallest of situations.
Those who meditate and are happy are healthier on all levels and their brains are free to process information and solve problems more creatively. Meditation clears out the insignificant junk in your mind and boosts its performance.
There are many other effects of meditation from which a stressed out high-tech firm employee would benefit:
- Regulates heart rate, breathing, cholesterol, and blood pressure
- Increases creativity
- Reduces tension, anxiety, and stress
- Less activity in the amygdala where the brain processes fear
- Clears state of mind and makes it easier to kick addictions and self-defeating behaviors
- Greater intimacy with friends and family members
- Over-all positive emotions and state of mind
- Increases power of awareness by developing concentration on a particular object
- Investigate your inner self and question and contemplate the nature of existence itself
Go out and explore for yourself!
These are just a few aspects in which meditation can shape your life, but there are so much more. The mind is a powerful tool and mechanism with thousands of undiscovered talents and processes. Feel free to explore the inner workings of your mind, strive towards improving it for the better, and treat it well. Meditating gives your mind a healthy refreshing, just what it needs to keep you and your outlook healthy and positive.