Meditation is often thought of as an avenue to clarity and self-awareness, but it may also be an avenue to better brain health. Emerging research suggests meditation may have significant benefits to brain health, ranging from improved mental and behavioral health to enhanced cognitive function.
In this article, we will break down how meditation helps the brain and provide helpful tips for incorporating meditation into your brain health toolbox.
Meditation is often misconceived as the practice of clearing your head of all thoughts. However, meditation is not necessarily about eradicating all the thoughts that come into your mind; meditation is about being mindful, being aware, and getting a healthy sense of perspective. It is the practice of being aware of the feelings and sensations that your mind and body are experiencing and allowing these feelings to flow through you.
Taking the time to breathe, slow down our minds, and focus our attention inward has become an increasingly popular practice, particularly as research continues to unveil the large array of physical and mental benefits. Over the last several decades, researchers have documented many health benefits of regular meditation. Meditation is even being used in clinical practice as an adjunct to conventional therapy for conditions such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, migraines, and irritable bowel syndrome, among others.
Below, we take a look at how meditation helps the brain, assessing the two primary aspects of brain health:
Mental and behavioral health is a significant part of brain health as well as overall health. It includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being and impacts how we feel, think, and act.
Mental and behavioral health is one of the largest areas of focus in the mediation research space. Currently, meditation is being researched for its potential to manage the symptoms associated with several conditions, including anxiety, mood disorders, and addiction.
Cognitive health, the ability to think, learn, and remember—is an essential component in our ability to perform day-to-day activities, or Activities of Daily Living. Emerging research suggests that the benefits of meditation may extend beyond mental health to cognitive health.
A 2015 study analyzing the neuroscience of mindfulness meditation and its potential cognitive benefits found that:
Other studies have suggested that regular mindfulness meditation may induce neuroplasticity phenomena, including the reduction of age-related brain degeneration and the improvement of cognitive functions, such as working memory, spatial abilities, and long-term memory.
Currently, experts believe that the mechanism through which meditation exerts its effects on the brain is through a process of enhanced self-regulation, including attention control, emotion regulation, and self-awareness.
Meditation can be daunting for many of us—but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few helpful tips for getting started:
If you are practicing meditation to improve or maintain your brain health as you age, you will likely want to measure and monitor your brain health over time. This will help you understand how meditation is affecting your brain health.
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