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The Transformative Power of Meditation: Rewiring Your Brain and Emotions

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People kept saying my brain’s development was complete as I approached my late twenties. That was a scary thought and hard for me to accept. It felt like I was just getting started. At this time in my life, I started reading about neuroplasticity, developing mindfulness rituals like meditation and journaling, and intentionally focusing on emotions that needed reconstruction. You know, some red flags.

I’m here to tell you, along with actual experts in the field – David Eagleman, a neuroscientist and author, and Kelly McGonigal, an author, psychologist, and educator, and numerous researchers and professors who practice in North America’s most renowned institutions, that wherever you are, no matter how far along in the journey, meditation can profoundly alter your experience of life. 

Rewiring Your Brain Through Meditation

There is no hard stop for brain development. I stand by that claim.

“Scientists used to believe that the brain reaches its peak in adulthood and doesn’t change until it starts to decrease in late adulthood.” Says Eileen Luders, a former researcher in the Department of Neurology at the Los Angeles School of Medicine. “Today we know that everything we do,” she urges, “and every experience we have actually changes the brain.” This information struck a chord in twenty-eight-year-old me.

A study conducted by Luders put twenty-two meditators and twenty-two nonmeditators under MRI machines and found that the meditators had more extensive gray matter in brain regions important for attention, emotional regulation, and mental flexibility.

What Is Grey Matter?

Grey matter and white matter make up the central nervous system. The grey matter gets its grey tone from a high concentration of neurons.

The high concentration of neurons allows it to process and release new information. The grey matter throughout the central nervous system enables individuals to control movement, memory, and emotions.

The study showed that whatever demands you place on your brain will strengthen the connections between neurons and create new ones. And that learning to meditate is no different than developing musical or mathematical abilities. The more you train, the better you get.

The author, Kelly McGonigal, breaks it down eloquently. 

“If you practice focusing on your breath, the brain will restructure itself to make concentration easier. If you practice calm acceptance during meditation, you will develop a brain more resilient to stress. And if you meditate while cultivating feelings of love and compassion, your brain will develop in a way that makes you feel more connected to others. Your path is your choice–and your breath leads you there.”

Honing In On Attention

An “attentional blink” is when we become lost in our minds. It’s when our friends are talking to us, and we have to ask them to repeat themselves because our brains gap for a minute. A less typical and more dramatic example is when we fail to notice the car in front of us come to a stop, and we rear-end them with our vehicle.

Training the areas of our brain that make concentration easier, Kelly says, will make you notice more and miss less

How Vipassana Meditation Can Improve Mental Clarity And Focus

The practice of sustained attention and non-reactive awareness in Vipassana enhances mental clarity, attention span, and cognitive function, leading to better concentration and decision-making.

Antoine Lutz, PhD, and Richard Davidson, PhD, published research that shines a light on the power of vipassan meditation. They wanted to reduce the number of attentional blinks by participants who underwent intensive vipassana meditation. The test involved identifying two similar images that appeared rapidly in front of them, for example, a set of numbers within a group of letters.

They asked one group to meditate daily for one week before the test and gave no instructions to the second group. But, after the first round of tests, the second group completed intensive vipassana meditation training and retook a similar test.

Every member of that second group improved their ability to identify the targets while spending less mental energy. This energy reduction freed up the mental capacity for predicting what came next. The same mental state in professional athletes separates them from the rest of us.  

Become a master of the fundamentals to the point where they become second nature and see what is possible. 

Mindfulness Meditation for Anxiety Relief

Anxiety can be demobilizing, holding us back from opportunities for growth and self-discovery, and can perpetuate negative self-endorsement. For many of us, stress and anxiety occur in our daily lives, and we’d be better off without it.

Research shows that mediation can help people take control of their anxiety. In a study conducted by Philippe Goldin, PhD, Wiveka Ramel, PhD, and James Gross, PhD, sixteen participants with social anxiety disorder practised mindfulness meditation to reduce the tendency to engage in and react to mental states automatically.

The participants in the study dealt with self-doubt, stress, and panic. This study’s goal was to help them handle their thoughts.

Participants took an 8-week mindfulness-based course to reduce stress. The training included mindfulness meditation, walking meditation, gentle yoga, relaxation with body awareness, and discussion about mindfulness in everyday life.

After the course, they asked participants to reflect on different statements about themselves while they sat under a fMRI machine. Things like: “I’m not okay the way I am” or “Something’s wrong with me.”

The findings indicated an increased focus on negative statements post-intervention. However, there was a noticeable decline in amygdala activation, a region linked to stress and anxiety.

So, they paid attention more but suffered less. They reported less anxiety and worry. They put themselves down less, and their self-esteem improved. 

Findings: the thoughts didn’t disappear, but meditation helped people handle distressing thoughts and emotions without being overpowered by them.

“The goal of mediation is not to get rid of thoughts or emotions,” Goldin says, “It’s to become more aware and learn how to move through them without getting stuck.”

Embracing And Navigating Through Emotions

We typically think of our emotional range as something that is fixed and unchanging – a reflection of the personality we’re born with. However, we can nurture and enhance our ability to feel compassion and connect with others. 

While even a small commitment to meditation can yield benefits for mental well-being and clarity, the real depth of rewards emerges through dedicated practice. 

Starting with ten minutes each day, the practice invites us to sit and embrace our presence with body, breath, and mind. Meditation isn’t about erasing thoughts or emotions but about embracing and navigating through them.

About the author
Picture of Gabe Fontana

Gabe Fontana

A freelance writer who strives for clarity, brevity, and humanity. He takes complex topics and make them approachable and fun to read. Find him online at www.fontanacopy.com to view the breadth of his work.

Gabe Fontana

A freelance writer who strives for clarity, brevity, and humanity. He takes complex topics and make them approachable and fun to read. Find him online at www.fontanacopy.com to view the breadth of his work.

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