The Brain Science Behind Meditation

The Brain Science Behind Meditation

People recovering from substance addiction and co-occurring mental health issues are often encouraged to practice meditation because it offers many benefits for both the body and the mind. Not only does meditation help you slow down in today’s hyper-connected and fast-paced environment, but it also restores brain health.

Meditation Benefits for the Brain

By practicing an inward dive with nonjudgmental attention, you can help your brain strengthen its neurological connections. Your brain cells go through a process of reorganization every day as they dynamically adapt to external stimuli by creating new neurological pathways. This process is sometimes known as “neuroplasticity.” How you think and feel may affect the formation of these neural structures. Meditation allows you to flex the muscle of thoughtful attention.

Studies have shown that weeks of mindful meditation can increase the gray matter density of the brain. Because gray matter makes up most of the brain’s neuronal cell bodies, it is particularly important in sensory perception, emotional regulation, memory retainment, decision-making, and self-control. Meditation increases the connections between neurons and changes the density of gray matter, thereby helping improve brain health by improving neuroplasticity.

Meditation can become a fountain of renewed energy for those who experience mental aging. The human brain naturally begins to deteriorate as people age. Due to changes in the pre-frontal cortex, which manages higher-order brain functions like concentration and decision-making, your abilities in these areas can become weaker as you age. Meditation is shown to thicken the pre-frontal cortex and reverse or slow some of these aging effects.

Neuroscience research shows that mindfulness meditation increases the connections between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex of the brain so that both parts help you recover better from stress. By allowing you to relax in the present moment while focusing on sensory experiences, meditation ushers you into a time associated with feelings of contentment and happiness.

Meditation and Brain Waves

The brain is a continuous source of electrical activities. Neurons communicate with each other by making brainwaves. By using an electroencephalogram (EEG), scientists have identified five types of brainwaves that occur at different frequencies. The fastest ones are known as Gamma brainwaves, which are associated with heightened mental activity including learning and problem-solving. The next type is Beta brainwaves, which occur during active and busy thinking, like in concentration or conversations.

The slower—but no less important—types of brainwaves are the Alpha, Theta, and Delta types. Alpha type happens when the mind is in a calm and relaxed state. They are also present during creative activities and right before you go to sleep. Since Alpha waves are associated with both relaxation and creativity, meditation may promote a calmer and more imaginative mind. Theta brainwaves happen during REM sleep, daydreaming, or deep meditation. Meditation increases inward attention and the frequency of Alpha and Theta brainwaves. The last type, Delta brainwaves, occurs during restorative sleep when you lose body awareness. 

Meditation Helps the Mind, Body, and Social Relationships 

You may know that chronic stress can impact the body in negative ways, including causing immune dysfunctions. Meditation, on the other hand, heals the body by releasing natural brain chemicals that help your natural mental, emotional, and physical systems. These chemical helpers include serotonin, cortisol, DHEA, GABA, endorphins, growth hormones, and melatonin. This is why people might feel a higher level of emotional calmness and joy after a short meditation break.

Due to the increase of these helpful chemicals, meditation can reduce physiological and psychological stress and lessen inflammatory responses. Mindful meditation also improves your compassion. For example, mindful parenting practices can help parents become more empathetic with their children. As meditation is an exercise to train your brain, carve out a few moments in your day to meditate and center yourself for increased emotional and mental control.

Tips for Practicing Meditation 

There are many specific techniques of meditation. You can focus on a specific element, like your breath. When your mind wanders, try to bring your attention to it as an anchor or home base. This is a basic type of meditation. If you want to practice more breathing techniques, you can try counting while inhaling and exhaling to prolong the breaths. You can also practice loving-kindness meditation by saying certain phrases such as, “May I be happy,” and, “May I be loved,” on each exhale.

You can practice meditation anywhere and for any duration of time. Find a quiet and undisturbed time during the day, place yourself in a comfortable position in the room, and bring your attention to the breath. You can also do a body scan by bringing attention to each part of the body while noticing any sensations and releasing tension. When your thoughts wander, notice them gently and without judgment before shifting your attention back to the anchor. Like any other skill, meditation takes practice and persistence.

Are you or a loved one struggling with substance addiction and its co-occurring mental health problems? Did you know meditation practices can help you heal from anxiety and depression?  Brain science shows that meditation offers a range of benefits for brain health. If you are looking to integrate this holistic treatment into your recovery, try Laguna Shores Recovery. Here you will experience the benefits of innovative, holistic treatment. We strive to provide customized programs to ensure the best treatment for you. We offer plans that may include detox, medication, 12-step groups, and relationship skills coaching that can greatly enhance your experience on the road to long-term sustainable recovery. Schedule an appointment with a licensed mental healthcare professional or therapist at Laguna Shores Recovery today. Both our inpatient and outpatient programs include meditation as part of the treatment plan to foster holistic healing and growth. Call us at (866) 906-3203 to find out more.