Meditation is not a new practice, as it has been around for thousands of years. Only relatively recently has further attention been placed on the practice of meditation and more research done regarding its benefits. There are many ways in which meditation can be beneficial for an individual, but it is interesting to note that practicing meditation can actually physically affect one’s brain and body. Though over the years, society has made great strides in learning more about the interworking’s of the brain, there is still much that remains a mystery.
One of the ways to understand how information is passed through the brain is to understand synaptic connections. These connections create a map of a myriad of circuits within one’s brain, influenced by outside stimuli, enabling the brain to process various experiences, and are essential in how the brain retains and accesses information. The more frequently a person experiences the same thing, the more the same synaptic connections are made, strengthening that particular pathway in one’s brain. The strength of these synaptic connections will allow an individual to access and recall information, repeat experiences, emotions…etc. more rapidly.
Meditation is known to be a practice. It is meant to be regularly integrated into one’s daily or weekly lives continually. Some individuals will allow for a short length of time and some may carve out longer periods of time for meditation. Some individuals will meditate once a week and some may meditate multiple times a day. Meditation is an experience and therefore one’s synaptic connections and pathways will process a meditation practice similarly to that of any other repeat behavior or experience. Hence, one’s synaptic pathways in relation to meditation will strengthen the more an individual practices meditation.
There is a common misconception that meditation is simply sitting still and thinking about nothing. In fact, various focusing tools are widely utilized in meditation. People are encouraged to focus on an object, a mantra (meaning a short phrase), an image, or even the rhythm of one’s own breath. While focusing on any of the above examples, an individual is then meant to observe his or her own thoughts that float through his or her mind. Each time receiving a thought, acknowledging it, and then sending it on its way by returning one’s focus to his or her selected object, mantra, image, breath…etc. The ability to observe one’s own wandering mind, and allow one’s thoughts to freely pass through creates an awareness of how one’s brain receives and processes information. This process can help an individual to better understand the nuances of how his or her own mind works.
With recent studies, it has been uncovered that meditation can literally help to rewire the synaptic pathways in one’s brain. The notion that one’s brain has the ability to shift its synaptic pathways is known as, neuroplasticity. Research surrounding the practice of meditation has surfaced simultaneously with the knowledge of neuroplasticity. This implies that one’s brain has the ability to be ever changing.
Another interesting thing about meditation that has been revealed is that it has the ability to result in both long-term and short-term benefits for one’s brain and body. Some short-term benefits from practicing meditation can include lowering one’s blood pressure, improving one’s attention span, and reducing stress. The gray matter in one’s brain is known to be the area that is related to one’s memory and emotional processing. With regard to the long-term benefits of meditation, there have been studies that show a denser gray matter in the brain of an induvial who regularly practiced meditation.
There are many positive social aspects that a person may experience from a regular meditation practice. Through the practice of meditation an individual can boost his or her ability to empathize with others and can increase one’s mindfulness. Additionally, practicing meditation can also help to mitigate one’s judgmental thoughts. Meditation has also been known to boost one’s level of compassion.
As research has begun to show, any individual can benefit from meditation. The positive effects that result from a regular meditation practice can especially benefit an individual who struggles with substance abuse and addiction. Integrating a meditation practice into one’s recovery plan can be an incredible supplement to his or her treatment. The fact that a simple meditation practice has the ability to shift the interworking’s of one’s brain is amazing. An individual now has the knowledge, through science, that he or she has the opportunity to actively adjust a portion of his or her own brain to become a better person.