Brain Awareness Week Post: Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity

You know the brain behaves like a muscle right?

And what do we know about our muscles – the triceps, quads, glutes etc?

We know that we can change the size, shape and strength of them when we ‘workout’.  This is the general consensus.

Well mindfulness, and meditation practice especially, is an extremely powerful workout for the brain.  It can help strengthen the neural pathways connected with emotional regulation and even ‘grow’ the part of the brain associated with a sunnier outlook on life.  In this article it is reported that Zeidan, a research fellow in neurobiology stated:

“the more you sit in meditation, the more your every day non-meditative life looks like meditation.”

A common explanation of this process is that by meditating we are rewiring our brains.  This can happen because of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to reorganise and remould itself.   

Or you may wish to consider it like this…

Have you ever gone for a walk across a field where no one else appears to have trodden before?  You know this to be true because the grass is lush and springs back into place easily after you’ve walked on it.

And then you begin to tread that path everyday.  After a few days the grass stays flat when you walk on it.  Then it becomes a little patchy with brown, dusty sections coming through.  Then the grass has disappeared altogether and a footpath has emerged.  Others begin to use it and it broadens and becomes more apparent – easier to use.

This is an analogy for what happens to the neural pathways in your brain when you regularly commit to formal mindfulness practice.  The more formal mindfulness practice you do – developing the skills of being fully present, having an increased bodily awareness, exploring how to respond to, rather than react to events, being compassionate and empathetic – the more these patterns of thinking become the norm.

This is because MRI scans have shown that the parts of the brain that are strengthened through meditation are the pre-frontal cortex – connected with emotional regulation and logic, and the hippocampus – associated with learning and memory –  whereas the amygdala, the center of fear and anxiety –  is apparently weakened.  For more information read this article here.

Though no scientist, I wrote this post in recognition of it being Brain Awareness Week this week. I find the science behind mindfulness incredibly interesting and it is a real motivator for me to sit for a few minutes in meditation most days.  What are your thoughts?  

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40 Comments

  1. Emma
    March 12, 2017 / 10:52 pm

    This is a great an informative blog. So powerful and massively insightful thank you so very much for being an authority on this xxxxx

  2. March 13, 2017 / 1:34 pm

    Really liked the analogy of the path. It’s a much better explanation on that idea that I’ve seen in other blogs attempting to grasp it. Thank you

    • March 13, 2017 / 1:40 pm

      Thank you that’s very kind. As a non-scientist I have tried to put it in terms that make sense to me. 🙂

  3. March 13, 2017 / 8:50 pm

    I love your analogy about walking in the field. This really reminds how much I want to – and should – do some formal meditation. But I don’t really know where to start. I occasionally do just a few minutes mindful breathing but I think I’d do better with something more guided. Any suggestions? Thanks for linking to #EatSleepBlogRT. I hope you come back next week. x

  4. March 14, 2017 / 10:02 pm

    This is so interesting! I love the analogy you use and mindfulness is something that I really need to practice more often! #eatsleepblogRT

  5. March 15, 2017 / 7:00 am

    Ooh, this Is really interesting. Love your analogy. I haven’t missed a single mindfulness meditation in three weeks now (which is a big deal for me), and although I only do 5 minutes on a morning I have found it creeping into other areas of my day and I’m loving it. Knowing the science behind it makes me want to do it even more x
    #FamilyFun

  6. March 15, 2017 / 1:05 pm

    This makes so much sense to me. I have just got Ruby Wax’s book about mindfulness and have very tentatively started to try and practice it (I’m not very dedicated just yet but we all have to start somewhere eh?!) and she expands upon this in her book. Everyone I know who practices mindfulness and meditation of some kind says it becomes easier over time and as you say the rest of your life will start to become a bit more relaxed or you will feel more mindful (hopefully!) in every day life. #FamilyFun

  7. aliduke79hotmailcom
    March 15, 2017 / 5:14 pm

    I have never tried meditation before, but it seems more and more people are using it now. I am going to have to give it a go one day.
    #FamilyFun

  8. March 15, 2017 / 8:26 pm

    Ah what an interesting read. It really does make sense and I have no doubt that it is the case. I have great faith in meditation and mindfulness I find it hard at times but it is without doubt worth sticking to. Thank you for joining us at #familyfun

    • March 16, 2017 / 6:48 am

      You’re right – it’s undoubtedly hard at times, but so worth sticking with. Thanks for commenting xx

  9. March 16, 2017 / 6:56 am

    This is really interesting, and makes total sense – the more you do something with your brain, the easier it will be to do. I need to keep at it with mindfulness – it’s a real struggle for me, but that’s only because my brain hasn’t created those paths yet. #ablogginggoodtime

    • March 16, 2017 / 8:47 pm

      Yep I think no one would deny it isn’t easy. Ruby Wax makes a great analogy with skiing and how hard this is to begin with but the more you do it the easier it gets and that really resonated with me (because I ski I suppose!) but Mindfulness is definitely something we need to keep up with. Good luck xx

  10. March 16, 2017 / 10:15 am

    A really enjoyable read, very informative. I need to invest more in mindfulness for sure!

  11. alisonlonghurst
    March 16, 2017 / 12:33 pm

    The more I read of your posts, Hayley, the more I want to get mindful! You are extremely inspiring and I am determined to get a greater understanding of mindfulness and introduce it into work and home life. Alison x #ablogginggoodtime

    • March 16, 2017 / 8:45 pm

      Ah – that’s such a lovely comment to read Alison. Thank you and I’m so pleased you’re finding the posts thought-provoking. xx

  12. Lucy At Home
    March 16, 2017 / 1:18 pm

    I love your grass analogy. A few years ago, I did a course called the “Lightning Process” and it was all about how we can choose to strengthen certain neural pathways and divert away from unhelpful ones. It has had a big impact on my life and helped me keep depression at bay. #ablogginggoodtime

  13. March 16, 2017 / 7:17 pm

    Oh I loved this! Our brain is amazing. Thank you for sharing this great and very informative post with us at #ablogginggoodtime 🎉

  14. March 16, 2017 / 8:45 pm

    lovely analogies 🙂 I like to read post like this and learn something new:)
    #FamilyFunLinky

  15. March 17, 2017 / 7:15 pm

    I love analogies it makes things for me so much easier to understand. I can almost see the path of which you speak but that may be as I’ve done so much geocaching. #ablogginggoodtime

  16. March 18, 2017 / 9:02 pm

    Really well written, the analogy makes it so much easier to understand. Now to make the time to be practise being mindful! #familyfun

  17. March 20, 2017 / 10:48 am

    A great post. I find it absolutely fascinating that we are able to change our brain in this way. Your analogy about walking through grass is a great way of explaining it. Thanks for sharing. Nx

  18. Lucy At Home
    March 29, 2017 / 2:54 pm

    Just popping back again from #blogcrush . I only came across the idea of neuroplasticity a few years ago, but it’s such an important concept – I think it should be taught to kids in schools. We can impact our lives so much by choosing to reinforce certain pathways, and diverting away from others. Great post, and great explanation of it!

    #blogcrush

  19. March 31, 2017 / 7:53 am

    Thank you for this-I can see so many benefit in Meditation and really want to be more disciplines in practicing. This will be my motivator for today! #blogcrush

  20. RaisieBay
    March 31, 2017 / 11:22 am

    A great analogy, I’m a fan of mindfulness. I remember learning about neural pathways in psychology.
    #blogcrush

  21. March 31, 2017 / 2:22 pm

    This is so interesting! I love that analogy and would love to start meditating myself but have no idea where to start. Xx #BlogCrush

  22. April 1, 2017 / 8:45 pm

    Thank you for this post, something a little different! It also came at the right time, my dad was a Buddhist and passed away in 2010, but it’s his birthday today. He always felt strongly about meditation and it’s something I’ve always been interested in, and feel it’s important for our mental health.
    #blogcrush

  23. April 6, 2017 / 3:42 pm

    It’s fascinating what we are capable of. It’s such a comfort to know that the more we practise bringing calm into our lives the more our brains will get used to this way of being.

  24. April 7, 2017 / 10:55 am

    I love the grass analogy I’ve never thought of my brain like that before. Definitely given me something to think about #blogcrush

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