BY SUSAN REYNOLDS
Mindful meditation has been shown to be effective in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as bolstering your immune system. Overall, mindful meditation, practiced on a regular basis, seems to improve coping skills and emotional resiliency.
Why it’s so good for your brain
Here’s a short list of what’s happening in your brain while you mindfully meditate:
- Labeling your emotions with words activates your left prefrontal cortex (your thinking brain), which calms your amygdala and reduces anxiety.
- Engaging your concentration alters the connection between your thinking (cortex) and the emotional (amygdala) parts of your brain, strengthening your neuronal pathways and thus allowing for more voluntary recognition and control of emotions.
- Being fully present activates your cortical networks near your cingulate cortex (increases empathy and self-awareness), the insula (focuses on internal body states), and the somatosensory cortex (senses your body in space), making the focus on you and how you are feeling – allowing your own happiness and calm to be the mainstay.
- Engaging in self-observation and awareness activates the middle PFC (center of metacognition, “thinking about thinking” or evaluating one’s own reasoning).
Keep those Brain Pistons Firing
The more brain systems fire synchronously, the better your mental health. Mindful meditation practiced on a regular basis will increase left frontal lobe activity and lower emotional reactivity, as well as help your (and your brain) become more self-observant, positive, and compassionate. Mindful meditation tunes up brain circuitry and connects the social circuits of so-called “mirror neurons” which recognize emotional faces in others and help you identify what others feel, i.e., it increases empathy for others. It does this by improving self-awareness, cultivating your sense of empathy for yourself, and improving your ability to regulate and consciously express your emotions.
Listen Up Emotions: I Am the Boss of You
Studies at the University of Toronto revealed that people who have completed eight weeks of mindfulness-based meditation training are able to activate their insula. Located deep inside your gray matter, the insula informs you of what’s happening inside your body in the present moment without connecting the experience to a specific emotion. This allows you to break the pattern of responding to new stimuli and experiences automatically. The point of meditation is not to stop you from having an emotional response to what’s happening in your life but to avoid responding purely out of habit. Mindfulness reminds you that when it comes to your reactions, you’re the one in charge.
Susan Reynolds is Grand’s Editor and has authored or edited more then 45 nonfiction books, including Train Your Brain to Get Happy, Meditation for Moms, and Woodstock Revisited. Her latest book Fire Up Your Writing Brain will be released in October.