Learning How Meditation Helps The Brain

July 14, 2022Henry Peck

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.

What Is Meditation?

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: 

  1. Mental and behavioral brain health
  2. Cognitive brain health

How Meditation Helps the Brain: Mental and Behavioral 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.

  • Anxiety and mood disorders: A 2014 systematic review and meta-analysis assessed the efficacy of meditation programs in improving stress-related outcomes (e.g. anxiety, depression, positive mood, etc.). They found that mindfulness meditation programs had moderate evidence of improved anxiety (effect size 0.38 at eight weeks and 0.22 at three to six months) and depression (0.3 at eight weeks and 0.23 at three to six months). For reference, antidepressants have an average effect size of 0.3.
  • Addiction: A growing number of studies have demonstrated that meditation may help people recover from addiction through its effects on regions of the brain responsible for self-control. Researchers believe that mindfulness meditation improves emotional regulation and reduces drug abuse

How Meditation Helps the Brain: Cognitive Health

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:

  • Mindfulness meditation has been associated with several brain changes in key areas of the brain.
  • Mindfulness practice may enhance attention and concentration. Several studies have shown that the anterior cingulate cortex—the brain region associated with attention—experiences changes in activity and/or structure in response to mindfulness meditation.
  • Meditation practice has the potential to affect self-referential processing and improve present-moment awareness. The default mode networks, including the midline prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex, which supports self-awareness, could be altered following mindfulness training. 

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.

Tips for Meditation and Better Brain Health

Meditation can be daunting for many of us—but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few helpful tips for getting started: 

  • Start low and slow: Even just a few minutes of meditation can have a noticeable, positive impact on the way you feel. Consider meditating five minutes per day and incrementally increasing the duration over time as you get more comfortable.
  • Stick to a schedule: It is easy to let “non-essential” tasks get kicked off our to-do lists. If you are having a hard time prioritizing your meditation practice, try meditating first thing in the morning or creating a meditation schedule that suits your lifestyle.
  • Create a peaceful environment: There is no wrong location or position to meditate in. Create a peaceful environment for yourself, whether that means decluttering your space, surrounding yourself with plants, using candles, using a bolster, or listening to music. 
  • Try a meditation app: Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned meditation professional, using guided meditation apps can help you organize your practice.

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.

Monitor Your Brain Health With Altoida

At Altoida, we are dedicated to providing a reliable, affordable, and highly accurate way to measure and monitor your brain health. We are building the world’s-first Precision Neurology platform and app-based medical device—backed by 11 years of clinical validation—to accelerate and improve drug development, neurological disease research, and patient care.

By completing a 10-minute series of augmented reality and motor activities designed to simulate complex Activities of Daily Living on a smartphone or tablet, Altoida’s device extracts and provides robust measurements of neurocognitive function across 13 neurocognitive domains. Our device measures and analyzes nearly 800 multimodal cognitive and functional digital biomarkers. Through the collection of highly granular data from integrated smartphone or tablet sensors, Altoida’s device produces comprehensive neurocognitive domain scores. This data can be tracked longitudinally to reveal trends and patterns while flagging concerning ones.

To learn more about how meditation helps the brain or about using Altoida’s Precision Neurology platform to monitor your brain health, contact us today.

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