Mindfulness meditation-why meditate? Research is showing that the way we direct our attention and thoughts can significantly impact and change the brain’s development.
The brain contains 85-100 billion neurons that are constantly rewiring themselves depending on how you interact with your environment.
IN CONTROL OF OUR EVOLUTION
The concept of self-directed neuroplasticity means that we are in control of your own evolution, responsible for the shape and function that the brain takes on.
For example, when in meditation, through sustained concentration we exercise the attentional networks of the brain which strengthens those neural networks, explaining the findings mentioned above that show meditation’s ability to change your brain’s structure.
Meditation will produce some immediate changes, but re-wiring of states into more permanent traits takes consistent effort.
THE FLOW & CAUDATE NUCLEUS
Psychologist Dr. Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi’s book “Flow: The Psychology of Happiness,” describes flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you are using your skills to the utmost.”
FLOW & HAPPINESS
Why is it said flow make us so happy? According to Dr. Csíkszentmihályi, the human mind can only process about 110 bits of information per second. For example, listening to someone speak takes about 60 bits, and he states this is reason we can’t listen to two people at once.
It’s when we are fully engaged in a chosen task, that our mind has no room for anything else. That’s when our full abilities get put to a single use, all 110 bits per second.
If we are passionate about our chosen activity, and through constant practice become an expert, then the “flow” state gets unlocked. And this makes us happy.
The caudate nucleus is said to be the part of the brain which is responsible for skill learning and automatic cognition. The term “being in the zone is an example”.
Getting into the “flow” according to Dr. Csíkszentmihályi, establishes sense of purpose, takes us out of the mundane, motivates and creates growth.
When one practices consistently for 10 years, or 10,000 hours it is said we can tap into the Akashic field, or universal knowledge. Once in this state actions like teaching yoga become instinctive, and the ways of teaching are original and new. Its as if you are not involved in the process, it takes place and you are just the vessel.
The word ecstasy often linked to religious experiences, feelings attached to spiritual phenomena and a sense of being completely absorbed in something, comes from the ancient Greek word, ekstasis which means,” to be outside oneself.
To feel outside of oneself is an experience associated with a deep meditative state, and the space that is accessed through continuous practice and study, or the Akashic field.
EVIDENCE FOR MEDITATION
A study of how meditation affects the brain, led by Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, attached 256 electrodes to a Tibetan monk named Matthew Ricard, who had spent decades meditating.
The activity in his left prefrontal cortex (responsible for subduing negative emotions) and abnormal gamma wave levels (suggesting signs of bliss) led them to dub him “the happiest man in the world.”
Research has shown that there are several ways that meditation can change the brain’s structure and function:
- Enlarges the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is responsible for rational decision-making. Studies have shown that meditation increases grey matter (brain cells) in this region
- Shrinks the amygdala. The amygdala is a key brain structure known as the emotional or fear centre of the brain. Smaller amygdalae found in more mindful people are associated with greater emotional control
- Thickens the hippocampus. This hippocampus is key for learning and memory. Just a few weeks of mindfulness meditation practice increased the size of this brain region
- Increases overall grey matter. Grey matter, brain cell bodies important for processing power and linked to intelligence, seem to increase with meditation training
Enhances high-amplitude gamma brainwave activity. High-frequency gamma waves correlate with states of heightened awareness and bliss. Long-term meditators have been shown to have more gamma wave activity both before and during meditation
MINFULNESS MEDITATION FOR MENTAL FITNESS
Major changes in the structure of the brain can take many years. Some studies mentioned above showed changes starting to occur after just a few weeks of meditation practice.
“It is incredible how quickly the brain adapts when you use it in novel ways. By repeatedly applying their attention in a particular way, meditators can build an improved brain bit by bit”
Findings demonstrating the brain’s incredible neuroplastic (the ability for the brain to reorder itself by forming new neural connections) capacity give rise to a new concept “mental fitness.” It means each of us can train the mind like a muscle through meditative exercises.
MINDFULNESS MEDITATION SYSTEMS
Mindfulness meditation has become very popular in the West, and as a result many generic systems have evolved, without paying attention to the cultural heritage of the many techniques. Yoga meditation itself is divided into sutric and tantric systems. Sutric philosophy teaches changing the mind through the mind, whereas tantra teaches changing the mind using techniques such as visualisation and mantra. Then there are many other systems including, Zen, Buddhist and Jain systems, all with their own cultural influences.
But what is the mechanism is behind meditation’s ability to change the brain?
Meditation is Self-Directed Neuroplasticity
“When neurons fire together, they wire together – mental activity actually creates new neural structures… What flows through your mind sculpts your brain. Thus, you can use your mind to change your brain for the better.” – Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
Meditation is just self-directed neuroplasticity, by directing the change of your brain by inwardly and consciously directing attention in a particular way. You’re using the mind to change the brain.
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