Meditation And The Brain: What Do We Know So Far?

Meditation And The Brain: What Do We Know So Far?

Meditation is a technique that’s been practiced for thousands of years, it can be dated as far back as 5000 BC. Ever since the growth of meditation’s popularity, a lot of research and studies have taken place. The very first piece of scientific research took place in 1936, and in 1955 with the first study to use an EEG (Electroencephalogram).

Numerous scientists have been looking into the impacts and the benefits of meditation on the brain, which left many scientists amazed. Therefore, additional studies in this particular area of practice are still being conducted.

What do we know (so far) about the brain and meditation? In this article we will go through how meditation affects the brain, how the brain changes from meditation and the many brain benefits meditation can have.

How Does Meditation Affect the Brain?

First, let’s dive into what actually happens in your brain when you meditate. Spoiler alert – it is a fascinating phenomenon!

If you’re new to meditation, the part of the brain responsible for decision-making scenarios (prefrontal cortex) is switched on during your first meditation session. This part of the brain filters experiences through a form of self-reflection. 

Did you know that meditation can also help you to focus your attention better? And when you are able to control your attention, the area of the brain in charge of planning and problem-solving becomes activated – which is the frontal lobe. During this state, your thoughts are more clear, more sensible, and more balanced, which helps you to see in a more neutral way. 

If you were to meditate for about 12 weeks, the areas of the brain responsible for generating and regulating emotions will turn on. During this phase, empathy can be developed and levels of compassion can increase. All these effects can become stronger, the more (and longer) you practice meditation. 

The brain itself is a complex organ, and this can get very scientific! If you want to know more about what exactly happens to your brain when you meditate, a great video from Beautiful Science further explains the brain changes from meditation. Or, if you want to read a more in-depth way be sure to check out the exact science of what happens to your brain when you meditate by Neurohacker.

Meditation and Brain Activity

Meditation can also affect and change parts of the brain’s activity. Studies have found that over time meditation may lead to an increase in gray matter density.

Gray matter starts to shrink with age and it contains most of the brain’s nerve-related cell bodies. Gray matter includes parts of the brain involved with muscle control, our senses, memory, and emotions.

Meditation can also physically change the brain’s neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize and change throughout your life. Your behavior and lifestyle are significant forces on the brain. Whatever you do in your life, your brain will create new and adjust cell connections. 

What else is interesting is meditation has also proven to have helped to increase the white matter. This white matter is responsible for helping us think and stay balanced. 

Our brain waves can also be altered and changed through meditation. There are five recognized brain waves that we have and they can change depending on what we are doing and how we are feeling. 

Research has shown that meditation can lead to an increase in the production of both alpha and theta waves.

When meditating for a longer period of time, research has found that the alpha frequencies can become the brain’s dominant brain wave. A 2020 article review of the various effects meditation has on patients found with a dominant alpha brain wave are have:

1) Improved quality of sleep

2) Decreased anxiety and depression

3) Improved memory and learning

4) Lower stress levels

Meditation can also impact our gamma brain waves. These are the fastest brain waves we have, which aid us in processing information, memory, and awareness. A particular study that measured the brainwaves of those advanced meditators showed that they had higher levels of gamma waves due to their dedication and long-term practice of meditation. 

Not only can meditation change parts of the brain. It can also affect how we handle stress, our emotions, and our thoughts – thereby creating clearer and calmer minds.

Benefits of Meditation on the Brain

The human brain is the most powerful organ, it controls and regulates our actions and reactions, but it also allows us to think and feel. That’s what makes us individual humans, and as we can get sick and wounded, so can the brain.

There are many different kinds of illnesses and disorders that affect the brain. Different forms of mental illness, migraines, and as well as Alzheimer’s – to name a few. These can all affect our quality of life, our relationships, as well as decline our health.

Today meditation has created a pathway to help and aid those in their everyday lives. Often advised by doctors and specialists to make it part of the patient’s daily routine.
So how can meditation help with brain health?

An article from the Dana Foundation, explains the four ways to prevent Alzheimer’s, which include yoga and meditation. Explaining that “stress has a detrimental effect on genes” and that even a 12-minute simple meditation or yoga benefits the brain.

The same goes for those suffering from mental illnesses. Setting some time to practice a form of meditation can help ease psychological stresses, and improve self-esteem and mood. 

In a 2013 research article, a 2-week meditation training was conducted. The results showed that those who were addicted to smoking tobacco had a 60% reduction in smoking. As well as scans showing increase of brain activity. Improving a person’s self-control and minimizing addictive habits.

What else is very interesting is the effect that meditation has on our brain chemicals. Meditation helps us to naturally release certain chemicals (or Key Neurotransmitters) and helps control the balance of hormones. There are over 40 of these neurotransmitters and practicing a form of meditation can positively impact their levels, such as:

1) Serotonin: Controls our attention, behavior, and body temperature

2) Melatonin: Helps with timing the 24-hour internal clock (circadian rhythms) and sleep

3) Cortisol: The main stress hormone. Restricts what would be non-essential or harmful in a “fight or flight” situation

4) Endorphins: Help to relieve pain, and stress and improve our mood

5) DHEA: Helps to produce other hormones (including testosterone and estrogen)

6) GABA: A chemical messenger in the brain, also produces a calming effect

7) Somatotropin: Replaces the growth hormones produced in the body (also known as the Growth Hormone hGH/HGH)

As we age, so does our brain. In our 20s our brains will naturally begin to deteriorate, then shrink in our 30s and 40s. A study of an 18-year analysis of the mind of a Buddhist monk, published in 2020, revealed that the monk’s intense meditation practice has slowed down the aging process of the brain by eight years. 

What we know so far about meditation and the brain are still being studied, with researchers finding out more amazing things about meditation and the brain, and the benefits of meditation on the brain.

As you see from the studies in this article how the brain changes from meditation and how we can all find time to use this amazing tool to benefit our mental health and overall wellbeing. 

You don’t need to be religious to start meditating and to gain all these brain benefits. It is a practice that needs time and dedication, like a lot of other things. There are many different meditation methods out there, you just need to find the one that works for you.

Would you like to continue exploring all these benefits of meditation in practice? Join our (free!) live guided Inner Peace Sessions!

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7 reasons why people meditate and why you should start today

7 reasons why people meditate and why you should start today

Do you also wonder why people meditate? In the words of the Dalai Lama, “We can think of meditation as a technique by which we diminish the force of old thought habits and develop new ones”. He provides a perspective that makes meditation powerful. When you think about meditation, a few words come to mind. You think of inner peace, calmness, balance, and well-being. It is a transformational practice. The benefits of meditation are many. Yet, there are a lot of questions about what it is and why people practice it.

Understanding meditation

Meditation is a range of practices that involve clearing your mind and focusing on the present using a combination of physical and mental techniques. It calms the mind and improves well-being. Some forms of meditation involve mentally focusing on a sensation, breathing, focusing on a visual image, or on a repeated word known as a mantra.

Overall, there are 4 main types of meditation, all with proven benefits. These benefits form the basis for why people meditate. We will look at a few of them in more depth in this article.

7 proven reasons why people meditate

1. Meditation helps improve concentration

One of the main benefits of meditation is that it improves concentration. Meditation trains the mind to live in the present and focus on one thing. By doing that, people can boost their mental focus. And this helps them in task completion and relaxation. 

A study evaluated the impact of meditation training on cognitive functions. It concluded that practitioners improved their self-reported mindfulness, rumination, and sustained attention (Chambers et al., 2008). Meditation helps people maintain calmness and emotional balance, resulting in better concentration.

2. Meditation improves mental health

Meditation is not a silver bullet for mental health issues. Yet, regular meditation reduces stress, anxiety levels, and depression symptoms. Meditation practitioners reported improvements in their self-esteem, mental focus, and mood.

A clinical trial evaluated the effect of a 12-week meditation course on participants. The study concluded that meditation improves the mental health of young adults. Another study found that daily meditation enhanced mood, emotional regulation, and attention.

3. Meditation improves physical health

Apart from the mental health benefits, physical health is also at the top of the list of why people meditate. To give you some examples: regular meditation introduces a lifestyle change that can trigger fatigue reduction and weight loss. Many studies also show that meditation stabilizes blood circulation, regulates blood pressure and improves metabolism.

Researchers at the American Heart Association Scientific stated that meditation increases mental and physical relaxation. And that would lead to better outcomes after a cardiovascular incident. They further analyzed the data of over 61,000 participants from the National Health Interview Survey and concluded that meditation also helped reduce the prevalence of cardiovascular disease. 

Research also shows that meditation reduces the effects of dementia and improves cognitive health (Russell-Williams et al., 2018).

4. Meditation improves self-awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to look inwards and assess how your thoughts, emotions, or actions align with your purpose. Practicing meditation gives you clarity of thought. As a result, you can take stock of your feelings and actions. Meditation takes you to a place of inner peace and calmness. And when you get there, you connect with your inner self.

The world is fast-paced. Work and family. Distractions from social media. Then there is technology. Life serves us an endless stream of activities. With these distractions, losing track of your true self is easy. To become more self-aware, you need to stop doing, stop thinking, and focus on yourself. Meditation helps you do this. 

5. Meditation can help overcome addiction

In 2020, the United Nations reported that over 284 million people aged 15-64 struggle with drug addiction. And every year, 11.8 million people globally die from the effects of drug abuse. Drug use and addiction are soaring. 

People are turning to meditation to help them recover from substance addiction. People recovering from addiction usually complain of anxiety, stress, pain, and poor sleep. These complaints often become triggers that make them go back to substance use. Research has found that meditation reduces the effect of those trigger symptoms. 

Meditation also increases emotional stability and reduces post-acute withdrawal symptoms. This stabilizes recovering addicts. Studies show that mindfulness meditation helps in preventing relapse and treating addictive disorders. The benefits of meditation help manage symptoms of withdrawals, cravings, and triggers (Wani & Singh, 2019).

6. Meditation helps to reduce stress

According to a recent survey, 41% of adults reported some form of stress. It is an alarming number. Hence, it is no surprise that people turn to meditation for stress and anxiety relief. It is one of the main reasons why people meditate. 

Meditation gives the body the opposite of what stress does to it. Stress leaves the body in emotional, physical, or psychological discomfort. But meditation ushers a state of peace and tranquility. In that state, you can organize your thoughts and decide what to focus on. Meditation also trains your mind and increases your mental fortitude. That way, you control your internal feelings and reduce stress.

According to Gamaiunova et al. (2019), meditation practitioners adapt to stress through acceptance and positive reappraisal. In other words, when they find themselves in challenging situations, they are able to remain calm and adapt their minds to see the positives. These adaptive emotions amplify quicker recovery from stress.

7. Meditation improves sleep

Sleep is essential for good health and well-being. And like St. Thomas Aquinas once said, “a good sleep can ease sorrow”. But, how important is sleep? 

Insufficient sleep is an underlying cause of many negative social and health outcomes. In the United States, insufficient sleep accelerates 7 of the 15 major causes of death (Chattu et al., 2019).

Yet, 44% of people report worsening sleep quality, and 37% struggle with insomnia. Many adults are at risk of the adverse effects of poor sleep quality. Meditation improves sleep. It triggers the body to ramp up natural melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. The more your body produces it, the better you can sleep.

Overall, meditating before sleep also helps. Researchers conducted a mixed-method study conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The result supports the efficacy of meditation for better sleep (Desai et al., 2021). Several other studies also conclude that meditation promotes better sleep (Kanchibhotla et al., 2021; Amarnath et al., 2017).


You asked the question. Now you have the answer. Generally, people practice meditation for mindfulness, emotional balance, inner peace, better sleep, and well-being. The list of benefits is endless and backed by research. And the best part? It is accessible, easy to start, and anyone can practice it.

Samavira Community Survey 

We ran a survey amongst the students of our Samavira Meditation Training, to learn more about the reasons why they meditate, and hence the reasons why they signed up for our training!

50% of our students started their meditation practice to reduce stress and increase self-awareness. In addition, almost 40% of our students use meditation to let go of negative emotions, reduce overthinking, and reduce overwhelm. Others meditate because they want to feel more grateful, be more focused, and receive more inspirational ideas and insights!

As you can see – for us, meditation is more than just a stress-reducing tool. What is your main reason to start your practice? 🙂

Your Next Step

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