This blog post is my best attempt to explain how meditation affects your brain in layman’s terms. Though I did say layman’s terms, there are still name of some parts of the brain’s that sound like jargons but I will do my best to explain things. Anyway, back to today’s topic. How does meditation actually affect our brain? Can our brain be changed or is our brain simply a product that is fixed by our DNA that we are born with? I know that it will likely be sad to you if I tell you that your brain can’t be changed because that would mean that there is nothing that we can do to improve our ways of thinking and reacting. Luckily, the answer is some parts of the brain can actually be changed. Let’s dive into this super interesting topic now.
How Do We Actually Know Meditation Can Affect Our Brain?
Can we have some science-based evidence to prove that meditation can affect our brain? How do we know meditation is not something fictional and glorified? Is it possible that we don’t feel good after meditation because we think it works? If we don’t have the technology to prove the effectiveness of meditation, I would still believe it works because I can really feel the difference between having meditation and not having it. Yet, I won’t be able to convince you that it actually works. Fortunately, modern technology actually allows us to scan our brains. We can actually observe what is going on with our brain when we meditate. We also get the chance to see the difference of the brain between someone who meditate a lot like a monk and a person who doesn’t meditate. I remember that I was so curious about these test results when I first read about them. Let’s talk about them now.
What Happen to Our Brain When We Meditate?
Now, let’s take a look at what the brain scans shows when we meditate. When we start meditating, the brain scans show that our brain’s activity becomes much less active. There is less beta waves and beta waves are those waves that are produced when we process information. So, what the scan tells us is that our brain is reducing the processing of information a lot when we mediate. The brain will remain having less beta waves for a short period of time after you have finished your meditation.
The Reduce of Beta Waves & Reseting Our Mind
If we talk in non-scientific terms, all we are doing as meditation is to assign an easy task to our brain, putting focus on your breath or on a repeating mantra in your mind for example. By doing that, we attempt to make our mind more clear by making it work on some easy task instead of doing some heavy thinking. If we compare our intent with the result of the brain scans, it is pretty obvious that meditate works exactly the way it is claimed. The reduce of the beta waves, which means the reduced information processing is the perfect proof that we are resting our brain. Notice that we can’t really make our brain completely rest, in order words, think nothing. Make it work on a simple task is as good as we can do and that’s indeed enough to make us think clearly.
The Brain of a Monk
The true stories only get more and more exciting. Wouldn’t you want to know the brain scan of a monk and see how his brain scan looks different than those of us who are monks? I am always curious about how monk actually live. That’s why I was so excited to find out the result when I first read about that experiment. Let me describe the testing to you now. Neuroscientists have performed brain scanning on monks, who spend hours on meditation daily, and find out that these monks all have more gamma brain waves in their brains. These gamma brain ways help you think in a more subjective way, meaning that these monks are better in solve problems because seeing things subjectively and rationally is the way to get close to the reality. Getting close to the reality is often the key to solve problems or even achieve success. Having more gamma brain waves also mean that you have more focus.
The Lasting Effect of Meditation
In the previous paragraph, I have talked about how these monks have more gamma waves found in their brain. To be more specific, they have a very high volume of gamma waves during their meditation and they still more a relatively high, just not as high, volume of gamma waves when they are not meditating. What does that tell us. That means that meditation can change our brain in a way that lasts.
Brain Plasticity & Meditation
Studies have also shown that meditation can increase the size of some part of the brain. In other words, meditation can make you grow your brain. We call the ability for our brain to grow plasticity. There is no question that most parts of our brains are fixed and they are basically gifts from our parents. Yet, there are some parts of the brain that we can grow and change which is a great thing to know. Say if we can eventually improve our brain by 5%, doesn’t that 5% increase give us an edge over anyone who are not willing to spend time on meditation.
In conclusion, meditation can reduce the beta waves and increase the gamma waves of your brains. These are well-proved by brain scans of monks who do hours of daily meditation. What these mean is that meditation can make you think more clearly and give you more focus. You don’t only feel these effects during or right after your having meditation, these effects actually last. Knowing that there effects last is a nice thing. Yet, to be honest, even if the change is not permanent, it is already worth it to practice meditation daily which can make us think clearly hours after each meditation session.