Last week I shared my article on the mind-body connection is and how meditation can strengthen it. You can read it here if you missed it. But do you know how and why meditation works? If not, this post is for you.
To explain how meditation works I need to get scientific. Hang in there though, as I will keep my explanations as simple as possible.
Our brains aren’t static. The brain you were born with is not the same brain that you have today. It has been adapting and changing over the years. New pathways are created in response to our changing thoughts, feelings and experiences. This means we can train our brain to change by the way we think and mindful practices that we adopt.
To understand how meditation works you need to have a basic understanding of four key areas in the brain. These four areas are:
The Medial Pre-Frontal Cortex: This area of the brain processes information related to self. It’s the part of the brain that ‘is all about you’. It causes you to over-analyse yourself, your relationship to others and your everyday life. It worrys, relives experiences and creates stories. It is also the area that causes you to take things too personally. In essence it is your subjective self.
The Lateral Pre-Frontal Cortex: This area is rational, logical and balanced. It assures you that your fears aren’t real and it helps you to not take things so personally. It is your objective self.
The Insula: This area monitors your body sensations. It is where you experience gut feelings from. It acts as a guide to how you react to what you sense in your body. If your Insula is on overdrive you are more likely to go into a panic if you wake with tingling in your arm. You think you are having a heart attack. If modulated you realise you just slept on it funny and the tingling will resolve in a minute or two.
The Amygdala: This area is responsible for fear and for the fight-or-fight response. When you hang out in Fear Town you hang out here. It is the part of your brain that initiates how you respond to stressors in your life.
Now we know what these four areas do, lets talk about what is going on in the brain of a person who doesn’t meditate. Strong pathways run between the Medial Pre-Frontal Cortex, the Insula and Amygdala. This means you are more likely to stress, worry, panic or overthink it. Or keep thinking about it!
For example, your boss leaves you a message on your phone asking you to call him on your day off. If the connections between these areas of you brain are strong you start creating a story about why. You might start panicking that you are going to get fired or that he is going to cut your hours.
It also means that the drunken monkeys who spend all day chattering away in your head tend to be louder. They tell you that you aren’t pretty enough or funny enough because that guy hasn’t text you.
Now lets talk about the pathways in the brain of someone who meditates daily (even if it’s just for 10 minutes).
What happens is simple. The strong connection between the Medial Pre-Frontal Cortex, Insula and Amygdala breaks down. The connection between the Lateral Pre-Fontal Cortex, the Insula and Amygdala then strengthens. It has also been proven that the Amygdala itself (or Fear Town) begins to shrink.
This is why people describe feeling less stressed, anxious and emotional when they meditate. The logical and rational brain modulates the areas of the brain setting off signals of fear.
Instead of thinking you will get fired when your boss calls, you return the call. You realise there is no point worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet. You stop looking at your phone because you know that guy is at work and he said he’d call you in the evening.
In a nutshell you think and act calmer. Your mind is clearer and more focused. You concentrate better and you don’t feel so much like a crazy person!
For these changes to happen though you need to be meditating regularly. Just like any other skill you want to require you have to set aside time, be committed and practice. It’s just like learning to play the piano or speak a new language. You have to turn up, do the work and be patient.
Now have a greater understanding of how mediation works it is up to you to make a commitment. A commitment to becoming calmer and more rational. If you don’t think you have ten minutes in your day to meditate then I have a challenge for you. Track how much time you spend each day on social media. And if it’s more than ten minutes I won’t you to ask yourself the question, ‘What is going to make me feel better’?
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Yours in Healing and Health,
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